Today is March 13, 2014. Exactly one week from today, five members of the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development will vote on whether to approve proposed changes to the Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices for Site Selection and Odor Control for Livestock Production Facilities.
We have now seen three versions of the proposed changes. The June 2013 version sent to the Commission of Agriculture was obtained via a FOIA request, as was the letter from Wendy Powers, chair of the Site Selection GAAMPs Committee. This version was remarkable not only because it eliminated Right to Farm Protection for small farms on residentially-zoned properties – in direct conflict with the language of the law – but also because it simultaneously eliminated Right to Farm Oversight of farms with as many as 500 animal units in other areas. The Michigan Small Farm Council objected strenuously to that version, so much so that we wrote our first Newsletter in October 2013 in opposition. That newsletter included this:
This highlights the real problem with agriculture in Michigan. At issue is not just that our state agricultural agency is grossly over-regulating small farming operations, but also that it is simultaneously under-regulating large operations. This balance of priorities is driving our food system increasingly into the hands of very large operations, with no recourse at the individual level to make different choices about the foods that are available to us.
That fall we were told by the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development that those Site Selection GAAMPs were on hold for 2013, and likely would not be brought up again until the fall of 2014.
And then on January 6th, 2014, MDARD announced that there would be a Public Comment period on the 2014 GAAMPs, which would close on January 22nd with a Public Comment Meeting. The version of the Site Selection GAAMPs proposed in January 2014 were greatly simplified compared to the version proposed the previous summer, with all references to eliminating Right to Farm Oversight for very large operations removed. Still, that January 2014 version did eliminate Right to Farm Protection for all farms on residentially-zoned property – in direct conflict with the language of the law – and the Michigan Small Farm Council objected to that January version strenuously, as well. And once small farmers in Michigan heard about the changes that our state agricultural agency had in store for us, they emerged in unprecedented number to oppose those changes. I read all 927 pages of response to the 2-week public comment on the 2014 GAAMPs, and counted 684 small farmers and their supporters who rose in opposition to the proposed changes to the Site Selection GAAMPs, with 21 other folks in favor. I wrote a letter to the Commissioners summarizing what I saw as the main recurring points of that response; I hope at some point to write here about what small farmers in Michigan said in January of 2014, because it was extraordinary.
On February 12th, 2014, the Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development held their regularly scheduled meeting, but the meeting did not go according to schedule. Instead, a standing-room only crowd of small farmers set the Agriculture Commission Meeting schedule back by almost two hours, as each small farmer rose to speak for their allotted three minutes against the proposed changes to the Site Selection GAAMPs. However, I left that meeting with no confidence that the Commissioners were swayed either by the numbers of people who had reached out to them, or by the heartfelt arguments that they made about why small farms are so important.
On March 1st, 2014 I started this series of blog posts, in a last-ditch effort to explain to the Commissioners of Agriculture how extraordinary the events have been leading up to the vote that they will be taking on March 20th. I want them to be very clear that some of us believe that we are at a transitional moment in the history of agriculture in Michigan, and that this vote on the proposed changes to the 2014 Site Selection GAAMPs will either be the last time that the Agriculture Commission votes for policies of the past that do not work and are not supported by the vast majority of Michigan citizens, or it will be the first vote in a new era that supports all kinds of agriculture in Michigan, and not just industrialized agriculture. Because that is what this is about. This is not about chickens, but rather about a food system in Michigan that we all can live with.
And now, today, MDARD has released a March 2014 revised version of the proposed 2014 Site Selection GAAMPs, which is the version that will be voted on during the Agriculture Commission meeting on March 20th. This version is most similar to the one we saw last fall, in 2013. However, despite making major changes to the language in this version, as compared to the one which was open to public comment in January, no dedicated public comment period to discuss these new changes will be held. But it should be clear to everyone who reads it that this version, like the one we saw in the fall of 2013, does two things: it eliminates Right to Farm Protection for small farms in residential areas in Michigan, while simultaneously eliminating Right to Farm Oversight for farms with as many as 500 animal units.
The Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development has every right to approve or disapprove any proposed change to the GAAMPs, at their discretion. But it is my view that the people of Michigan will not stand for any further denigration of our food system, either by further restrictions to small farms, or by further protections for industrialized farms.