Local Food Production & Marketing

Recently, there has been increased interest in local food production and related agricultural enterprises.  If your community is considering adding provisions regarding food production in your ordinances, this article outlines some issues to keep in mind.At the outset, it is important to make a distinction between activities conducted by individuals primarily for their own use and activities conducted for enterprise.Individual ActivitiesGenerally, most ordinances have no restriction for individual property owners raising food such as fruits and vegetables for their own use.  The only time issues arise is the raising and keeping of animals in areas that would not be considered rural or agricultural in character.  Most communities limit raising animals to Agriculture or Resource Conservation districts.However, recognizing that there are individuals who would like to raise chickens and other animals in a non-farm environment, communities are adopting ordinances to regulate these activities.The Ann Arbor Ordinance is frequently cited as a good example.  In general, the standards in the Ordinance are well conceived.  However, the process which requires 100% neighbor consent could be considered arbitrary.  An applicant could meet all the standards but have a dissenting neighbor who objects for no reason at all; thus, the permit is denied.  Therefore, a community should carefully consider the provision which gives neighbors veto power.Regulations for raising chickens or other animals in non-farm environments should not be included in the Zoning Ordinance, but in the General Code of Ordinances.  There are two reasons for this.  First, if the community is trying to accommodate this activity, it should be an administrative process.  Second, issuing a permit under a General Ordinance would give the community broader authority to enforce a violation under the general police powers, should a nuisance occur.Agri-Enterprise ActivitiesThere are a variety of new agricultural activities being considered in communities throughout Michigan.  The term agri-enterprise is used because they may be conducted by both for-profit and not-for-profit entities.Most Zoning Ordinances treat agricultural activity in a somewhat traditional sense by permitting a variety of farming activities in the Agriculture or Resource Conservation districts.  The list of permitted activities should be as referenced in the Right to Farm Act.In addition to bona fide farming activities, (including farm markets/roadside stands) communities should also consider including marketing activities for farm products, such as the following:Food Hubs provide a centrally-located facility with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food products.Agri-Tourism is the practice of visiting an agri-business, horticultural, or agricultural operation, such as a farm, orchard, winery, greenhouse, hunting preserve, or companion animal or livestock show, for the purposes of recreation, education, or active involvement in the operation, other than as a contractor or employee of the operation.Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, is a marketing strategy in which a farm produces farm products for a group of farm members or subscribers who pay in advance for their share of the harvest.  Typically, the farm members receive their share once a week, sometimes coming to the farm to pick up their share; other farms deliver to a central point.U-Pick Operation is a farm that provides the opportunity for customers to harvest their own farm products directly from the plant.  Also known as pick-your-own or PYO, these are forms of marketing farm products to customers who go to the farm and pick the products they wish to buy.The Michigan Agricultural Tourism Advisory Commission has developed a guidebook called The Agricultural Tourism Local Zoning Guidebook which describes these marketing activities, and the benefits gained through local food production and marketing.For more information on zoning for local food activities, contact Dick Carlisle at rcarlisle@cwaplan.com or 734-662-2200.