This is Not About Chickens

This website and blog are an outcome of a personal interest in backyard chickens, but this is not about chickens.  Instead, it is about what I learned about the history and politics of agriculture in Michigan after our state agricultural agency, MDARD, made changes to a regulatory document that exempted 1.5 million Michigan citizens from certain Right to Farm protections that were previously enjoyed by us, and which continue to be enjoyed by the remaining 8.5 million residents of the state.  

These events are curious for many reasons, but the most fundamental difficulty is that our legal system is not structured such that a state agency has the authority to deny any citizen their legal rights.  And yet MDARD attempted to accomplish exactly this when it invented a new kind of GAAMPs language in late 2011, and added it as a preamble to the 2012 GAAMPs.  This language is still in effect, and it denies all Michigan citizens living in cities of over 100,000 essential Right to Farm protections that were enacted by the state legislature for all Michigan citizens.  So one essential question is why MDARD chose to use the GAAMPs as a mechanism to subvert our clear and unambiguous legal rights under the Right to Farm law, instead of the using the normal, legislative method to make a change to the meaning of the law.

But it isn't just the legality of the approach that is troublesome.  The fact that our state agricultural agency is using its power and authority to actively deny state residents their agricultural rights raises serious questions about the motivations of the agency.  What possible reason could the state agricultural agency have in restricting agricultural rights to its citizens?  I spent many hours searching for answers, and eventually created this website to organize and make available many of the original historical documents that I found or FOIA'd along the way. 

The history of Michigan's state-level Right to Farm law is, at its core, the history of the rise of the industrialization of agriculture in our state, and of how that feat was accomplished despite widespread public distrust in its practices and in its outcomes - which most of us now eat every day.  Right to Farm is a legal device that enables and protects industrial farming practices from the many forces that would like to understand, monitor, or regulate them.  

And because Right to Farm is so important to industrial agriculture in Michigan, our state agricultural agency has taken a keen interest in protecting that law from any amendment that might weaken it, or indeed from any amendment at all.  So what to do when the state's largest city, Detroit, decides to bring Right to Farm back to the legislature for amendment, to exempt Detroit from Right to Farm protection?  Why change the GAAMPs, of course, to deny Detroit and other cities from their Right to Farm protection, and then argue that Right to Farm never protected them anyway.

This story is interesting if you care about urban agriculture, or the rights of people to grow their own food.  It is also interesting if you care about the rise of the industrial food state, and the role that state laws and state agencies have had in promoting the industrialization of our food system.  To my knowledge there is no news article, book, or PhD thesis that tells that story in a clear and simple way.  But the story as it unfolded in Michigan is present in the historical documents that populate this website.  My goal with this blog is to call out the most compelling pieces of what I have seen in these documents, to begin to tell the story of how our Right to Farm law has changed the face of agricultural practice and food production in Michigan.

Bon Appetit.


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