|Posted on March 14, 2013 at 1:35 PM|
In the summer of 2012 we’d been looking for our dream house for a year. Our idea of a dream house was different from most others’. We wanted a small walkout ranch in the country. We wanted a backup heat source(wood), a southern exposure, and excellent insulation to reduce our dependency on outside energy sources. We wanted a few acres, with lots of trees for privacy, but plenty of unmanicured grass for pasture.
You see, we wanted a Homestead. We wanted to have a few goats for milk, some pigs for healthy pork, and some chickens for soy-free eggs. Why would this matter? Why, our 5 sick children, of course. Our children have a plethora of allergies, but the most problematic of them all are their food allergies.
5 years ago when I discovered the extent of their food restrictions I was brought to my knees. I’d lived 2 straight months on literally nothing but chicken breasts and butternut squash. Day in and day out, chicken, squash, salt, pepper, and water. Really try to imagine that.
It’s called a Total Elimination Diet. Ordinarily, this allows around 10 foods. But this wasn’t enough for my baby. He had reactions to even the least allergenic foods, like rice. I had to throw it all out. I did this so that my nursing baby could not only survive, but finally begin to thrive. He’d been screaming, sleeping no more than 15 minutes at a time, experiencing rashes, diarrhea, diaper rash, not gaining weight, not growing, throwing up, throwing up, and throwing up. And did I mention the screaming? And the missed sleep? I lost 60 pounds in 2 months. The malnutrition and screaming baby put me through more than any other challenge in my life has.
Around 8 months of age, when I worked out the 14 foods/additivesto which he reacted through my breastmilk, life got a little easier. He slept, his rashes cleared, he GREW! It was wonderful. But the biggest lesson he taught me was that my other children, and even I, had reactions to the same foods. Because of this, I had to make everything that went into our mouths, from scratch. Nothing could come from a box or bag; it all had dairy, soy or corn in it. He was allergic to eggs, and couldn’t have store-bought meats due to allergen contamination. Then I learned something interesting. When a chicken is fed soy, the soy is detectable in its eggs. An individual could be allergic to the soy in the eggs, rather than the eggs themselves. And, an animal’s food can cause youto react when you drink its milk, or eat its meat, the same way in which allergens had made my baby react through my breastmilk. These revelations rocked my world. We mightbe able to get some foods back, if only the animals were fed “right”!
I spent the next 3 years trying to find anyone that fed their animals “right.” Unfortunately, you can’t find it here. I did find soy-free eggs, in Colorado, at $10/dozen plus shipping. There was just no way. We had to do it ourselves. We came to want to do it ourselves.
After 3 accepted offers that went south, we found Our House. We put in the offer and I went home to call the township to make sure that our homesteading plans would be a go in the area. I was told that if we wanted large animals (I’m assuming cow?) we would need more than 2 acres, a horse required at least 5. I hung up the phone thrilled. The process, this time, went off without a hitch and in just a month we were signing on the dotted line.
We moved in on August 16th, 2012. That week I brought home 2 pot bellied piglets (pastured pork is extremely nutritious, and when not fed soy or corn can be very healthy for our allergic kids). 2 weeks later our shed was delivered, built, and filled with 8 chickens (soy and corn-free eggs! None of us reacted to eggs for the first time!). In early October we got 3 goats (goats milk was within sight! We were excited to say goodbye to the $8/gallon sheep milk bill, plus the hour-long drive to get it). We were on cloud nine. The kids and I worked together to build pens, build houses from free pallets, build chicken feeders and rabbit tractors. We hauled hundreds upon hundreds of pounds of hay and straw. We had a blast.
In November we got a certified letter. It was from thetownship. We were in violation of township zoning ordinances, which stated that farm animals were not allowed in our zone. We had to remove the farm animals within10 days. Needless to say, I was more than a little confused. I went in to talk to someone in the office. Surely this was a mistake.
That meeting went like this: Nope, farm animals were not allowed. No, it’s impossible that you cleared it before buying the house, as nobody would have told you that farm animals were allowed here. No, I’m sorry it doesn’t matter that pot bellied pigs are considered a pet, or that your children are allergic, or mini goats are considered pets in many parts of the county, they are farm animals and must be removed. OH! Your children are in 4-H!? Ok, just write us a letter that says that, with a timeline for 4-H projects and it should be fine.
Wow…that was easy! So, I wrote the letter and hand-delivered it. I was met by the township supervisor, who told me that I had been mistakenly informed by the township representative the week before. Even if they are used for 4-H, farm animals are not allowed and they must be removed. WHAT? You mean someone in your office got it wrong?! But I was told last time that that was impossible!
I was then invited to come to the next township board meeting. At the meeting I could request that the board meet with the planning committee again regarding the zoning in our area and change things. You see, the city of Williamston, just 3 lots to the south of us, had just changed its ordinances, to allow any farm animal, including ostriches, cows and even horses! Being that agricultural zoning begins not even a half mile to the northof us, as well, they would have to be crazy not to revisit their plan, right?
So, I did some hard work. I wrote a letter outlining the extent of my children’s allergies, and just what I was looking for them to do; simply have a meeting and change some words on some papers. I spoke with each of my neighbors and asked them to sign a letter that said that they did not object to my family having farm animals. I showed them our plan, with specific numbers of each animal (no rooster, for instance), the length of time each animal would be where, our plans to be GAAMP compliant (more on this later),etc. I included all of this info with my letter to the board. I included a copyof the new city ordinance, information about Lansing’s efforts to allow urban goats in densely populated areas, and other cities, such as Denver, that had allowed such a thing and flourished for it. I bombarded them with information.
Through my jitters I attended the board meeting. I was asked up to speak, and I said my piece. After a short discussion amongst themselve they decided my case was not worth their time. The following week we got another letter that said we must remove the animals in 10 days.
At this point I felt I had no choice. I contacted the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. This organization defends the rights of small farms, and I needed them to do this for me. Mr Pete Kennedy spoke with me at length, and described to me the Buchler case they had just won in the Upper Penninsula of Michigan that was nearly identical to mine. Essentially, if youare a farm, commercial in nature (meaning you sell something, anything, such as eggs or rabbits, or intend to do so, as is evident from signage or internet ads, like those for our rabbits) you are protected by the Right-to-Farm Act, which supersedes local zoning ordinances. We were protected. So, Pete sent a letter to thetownship informing them of such, along with the case law set by the Marquette family that had just spent years fighting their township.
Williamstown Township still refused to budge. They assert that our property is in a zone deemed "high-density residential." As I mentioned we are 3 houses outside of the town that allows any farm animal on your property. The city actually wraps around the back of our property, and the 2 acres to the north, adjacent to our property, is actually city land! In our zoned section there are 6 houses on 70 acres. There is a 40 acre crop farm directly across the street from us. High density, indeed. They sent yet another letter informing us that we needed to remove the animals or face theconsequences. However, they miraculously decided to make it an agenda item at their next meeting, after all. This meant that I could have the opportunity to speak again. I didn’t let this opportunity go to waste.
First, I asked all over Facebook for support. I asked people to come to the meeting, and fill the seats. I asked them to write letters of support for our farm and our purpose. I asked them to spread the word. And spread it they did. We got over 2,500 visitors to our farm page that day. People spread the word to their homesteading groups, gardening groups, their backyard chicken groups. They asked far and wide for letter writers. And I got nearly 100 people messaging me, showing their support and outrage, encouraging me to fight to my last breath for the very worthy cause of self-sustainability and small-scale agriculture. I felt empowered. It gave me the courage to call the news.
After my nerve-wracking interview with the 11:00 news I made my way to the meeting. They called my address and began talking about me as if I weren’t even there. The supervisor said they’d asked for a timeline for removal of the animals and hadn’t received one (because we have no intention ofremoving them!) and asked the other board members their opinions on what should be done next. The clerk piped up with “I think we should move forward”, presumably he meant moving forward to fining us. The supervisor then says, “Well, there’s been some mention of right-to-farm. Maybe we should ask what that is” and they all looked to the trustee they consider their “ag guy”, Mr. Imhoff. He said, somewhat apologetically, “From the information I have, they have to be in a district zoned agricultural for that to apply.” At this point they asked me if I would like to come up and say something. I absolutely did!
I said respectfully that that was categorically untrue; that we had only to be commercial in nature, which we were, to be covered by the MRTFA. I mentioned the Buchler case, and how they had been zoned residential, just like us. They had won, were protected by the MRTFA, and we were also. I told them that we were one step away from MAEAP verification, which I figured we would accomplish in the next couple of weeks. MAEAP verification shows that we are GAAMP compliant, meaning we’re making a minimal environmental impact, and we are certified as such by the USDA. I also mentioned that, in the Buchler case, the judge sided in their favor, and awarded them most of the $20,000 in legal fees. I asked them to consider one thing.They are obligated to do what's best for the community, and did they think that taking on over $20,000 in the defense’s legal fees was what was best for the community. I thanked them and sat down.
Since they had just been whining about their small, strained budget, I hoped that this would really make them think. They decided that it sounded like it was a case of who is right about the legality of the Right-to-Farm Act and referred it to their attorney. At last night’s meeting they voted to take legal action against our farm and family. (here's the video of the meeting. Sorry for the quality http://youtu.be/2WcG6oYjKVA) TheFarm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund is not sure, at this point, that they want to take on our case and the costs of our defense. We are unable to afford any attorney for assistance in our defense, and the defense of our property rights and right to clean food. We need your help. Please consider making a donation using the link in the menu above, or at least pass this story on to anyone and everyone you know. Together we can take one more step toward taking back our food system! Donate here or if you don't do paypal/online payments please feel free to make out a check or money order as follows:
3920 N Williamston Rd
Williamston, MI 48895
When we know who will be representing us we will have you send donations directly to them.