House Bill 4012: Could Michigan Residents Regain Their ‘Basic Human Right’ To Farm Their Yards?

Could Michiganders regain full use of their right to farm thanks to Representative Tim Kelly’s House Bill 4012?

Michigan’s House Bill 4012 is being referred to as the “Homestead Subsistence Farming Act” and it’s being presented as the dream come true for Michigan backyard farmers. Michigan’s House Bill 4012 would guarantee residents the right to raise fruits and vegetables and to tend to a reasonable number of farm animals, like rabbits and chickens.

According to Michigan Food News, if House Bill 4012 is passed and signed, municipalities will still be able to address noise violations, but it would ensure the “basic human right” to raise food for both city residents and rural residents in Michigan. As movements like Grow Food, Not Lawns and Urban Farming started gaining momentum, Michigan was once praised nationally for its Right to Farm Act, but last year, changes to MDARD regulations tightened the reins for backyard farmers. Gail Philbin, director of the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club, told Michigan Live that the 2014 changes “effectively remove Right to Farm Act protection for many urban and suburban backyard farmers raising small numbers of animals.”

Inquisitr featured an article about the MDARD changes right after they occurred, and the topic sparked such a debate that it went viral. Kelly’s House Bill 4012 would ensure Michigan residents their right to use their own land to produce food without a hassle, according to Michigan Food News.

House Bill 4012 amends the “Michigan Zoning Enabling Act” with arguably straight-forward, simple text. House Bill 4012 says that if a building is deemed a residence under a zoning ordinance, the residents of that home are legally entitled to produce fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and a reasonable number of poultry, livestock, and other farm animals for their own consumption and for transfer. Michigan’s House Bill 4012 specifies that the residents would not need a special use permit or have to go through any special procedure to produce food for their family and friends.

Michigan House Bill 4012 was introduced by Rep. Tim Kelly from Saginaw Township.
Michigan House Bill 4012 would allow people the right to garden and raise a reasonable number of animals. Here, a week's worth of eggs from a family's backyard chickens is displayed by City Chickens Gone Country on Facebook.

While the subsection wouldn’t forbid the sale of the products, House Bill 4012 wouldn’t ensure residents the automatic right to sell the products, either. A member of the Michigan Small Farm Council pointed out that the use of the term “reasonable numbers” in House Bill 4012 should be made less ambiguous, lest it would still not protect residents in regards to chickens and other livestock. A city could specify that a reasonable number of chickens is two, for example.

House Bill 4012 might not have helped the owner of Sweet Peas Farm maintain her entire business, but would have protected her right to raise allergen-free foods for her children, which was always her biggest priority. House Bill 4012 would be enough for a Detroit couple, in the midst of a heated battle with the city, to get their goats back and begin raising chickens for eggs again.

On social media, some Michiganders are skeptical, wondering why a lawmaker — who invited the president and CEO of one of the largest sugar beet processors in the country to be his sole guest at this month’s State of the State address — would take a stand for residents’ right to farm their own backyards. Rep. Kelly ran on a conservative Republican platform promising to protect Michigander’s property rights, stating that he “will support policies that expand personal freedom and liberty and oppose policies that invite government expansion and intrusion.” Several social media users pointed out that they were unable to find any major contributions to his campaigns from any big agriculture players and praise his efforts.

Rep. Kelly introduced the House Bill 4012 on January 15, 2015, and it has been referred to Michigan’s Committee on Agriculture.

[Photo via City Chickens Gone Country and Grow Food, Not Lawns on Facebook]