The Free Press wrote a fantastic editorial in support of my actions on urban farming in Detroit.
Editorial: To grow urban farms, give Detroit local control
Urban farming can redeem at least some of Detroit's more than 40 square miles of vacant land -- nearly a third of the city -- for productive use. But those efforts won't move ahead until Michigan's largest city can use local control to protect its residents and neighborhoods. That's why legislators ought to approve a soon-to-be-introduced bill -- cosponsored by state Sens. Virgil Smith, D-Detroit, and Joe Hune, R-Hamburg Township -- that would secure the city's right to regulate agriculture within its borders.
As it stands, the Michigan Right to Farm Act supersedes local ordinances and zoning regulations, precluding municipalities from exercising zoning or regulatory authority over farms. The law has already been invoked in local clashes over farming activities in Madison Heights and Sterling Heights.
But the Right to Farm Act was never intended to give commercial farmers carte blanche in densely populated cities. It was enacted in 1981 to protect existing farmland from urban sprawl and nuisance suits, and then amended two decades later to protect farmland from annexation and zoning changes. It provides needed protection for the commercial production of farm products where agriculture is the preferred use.
But agriculture is unlikely ever to become the predominant use of land in the city of Detroit. Without a change in state law, the city risks losing control over land use if it approves one or two farming start-ups and then has its zoning pre-empted by the Michigan Right to Farm Act.
Exempting Detroit from the Farm Act would enable the city to develop its own reasonable ordinances to regulate urban farming and protect residents from noise, odors, dust, truck traffic and other problems not generally associated with city living. Cleveland; Bloomington, Ind., and Madison, Wis., have already adopted zoning ordinances to govern urban farming.
Detroit has large tracts of land unlikely to attract residential or commercial development in the foreseeable future. Commercial farming on certain vacant parcels, amounting to more than 25,000 acres, could create jobs while providing fresh vegetables and fruits -- sorely needed in an impoverished city largely abandoned by chain grocery stores.
But none of it will happen until Detroit can exercise reasonable dominion over the land within its borders, including farmland. Legislators can help Detroit help itself by approving a bill that would give the city the legal authority to do so.