In recent years several large farming operations have been proposed for the city of Detroit to solve problems of vacant lots, unemployment, and food security. Although these opportunities are of clear interest, Detroit has concerns that the state's strong Right to Farm law will prevent city-level control of farming operations.
As a result of these concerns, state senator Virgil Smith prepared a bill to exempt the City of Detroit from Right to Farm Protection in late 2011. That bill was never introduced. Instead, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) added language to the GAAMPS to exempt any Michigan citizen living in a city of over 100,000 from Right to Farm Protection, beginning in 2012. The timeline of events leading to the passage of the 2012 GAAMPS Preamble language demonstrates that this was a highly unusual effort by MDARD:
- Changes to the GAAMPS normally occur during the course of a full calendar year, during which there are many opportunities for public comments. In contrast, the language that would become the Preface was not included in the Draft 2012 GAAMPS, and was not mentioned at the November 9, 2011 Agriculture Commission meeting during which the Draft 2012 GAAMPS were formally presented to the commission. Thus on November 9, 2011, it appears that MDARD had no plans to introduce new preface language to the GAAMPS.
- On November 28, 2011, a Detroit Free Press article announced that Virgil Smith and Joe Hune would introduce a bill that week to exempt Detroit from Right to Farm protection.
- On November 29, 2011, a mlive.com article announced that Virgil Smith intended to introduce that legislation later that day.
- That bill was never introduced, however, and by early December 2011 Virgil Smith provided an explanation on his website: " Before I introduced my bill which would allow Detroit to control agricultural development in the city, the Michigan Department of Agriculture asked me to wait so they could better explain what they are doing on this issue. On December 14, 2011 the Department will hold a meeting that will allow municipalities with a population of 50,000 or more the ability to regulate farming activity."
- On December 14, 2011, the Agriculture Commission was for the first time formally presented with the 2012 GAAMPS Preface language that would exempt all Michigan citizens living in cities of over 100,000 from Right to Farm protection. According to the minutes of that meeting, that language was approved after almost no discussion by the commissioners.
This series of events had a number of important policy elements. First, because the normal, year-long process of making changes to the GAAMPS was compressed to about two weeks, the addition of the 2012 GAAMPS Preface was proposed and voted on at the same meeting, giving none of the 1.5 million citizens living in cities of over 100,000 an opportunity to dissent. Second, the type of language introduced in the 2012 GAAMPS Preamble constitutes an entirely new kind of GAAMPS language which exempts a whole class of citizens (those who live in cities of over 100,000), rather than individual citizens who fail to meet scientifically based generally accepted agricultural and management practices. Third, although written to meet the desires of Detroit officials to exempt Detroit citizens from Right to Farm protection, many city documents record that Detroit officials do not believe that these "administrative" changes to the GAAMPS can withstand a court challenge, and give them the level of protection they desire. Indeed, Senators Smith and Hune wrote a letter to Bill Schuette, the Attorney General, requesting his formal legal opinion on the matter. That opinon has not yet been issued, and rumors have been heard that a decision has been made that a formal opinion will not be written. For more on this issue, see the page on the Attorney General.
All of this begs the question of exactly what motivated MDARD to so rapidly push the 2012 GAAMPS Preface language. Documents from the City of Detroit have part of the answer: the March 2012 Detroit City Planning Commission document states that "...neither the Farm Bureau nor MDARD support a statutory exemption. They share a concern about opening the Act to further scrutiny and possible erosion of the protections for existing farm operations." Thus MDARD's motivation in pushing the 2012 GAAMPs Preface was not centered on policy issues around urban agriculture in Detroit or indeed in any city of over 100,000 residents in Michigan. Instead, the 2012 GAAMPS Preface language was passed to protect some other existing farm operations, which MDARD considers to be at risk the next time the Right to Farm Act comes before the state legislature.
Chronological listing of documents referenced above:
- November 9, 2011 Agriculture Commission Meeting Minutes
- November 28, 2011 Detroit Free Press Article
- Early December, 2011 Virgil Smith Legislative Report
- December 14. 2011 Agriculture Commission Meeting Minutes
- February 21, 2012 Letter from Senators Hune and Smith to Attorney General Schuette
- March 29, 2012 Detroit City Planning Commission Document (see page 7)
Other City of Detroit Documents Referencing Right to Farm; note that a previous attempt to exempt Detroit from RTF protection was attempted in 2010 with House Bill 6458.