By LAUREN WALKER
Capital News Service
LANSING — As the number of farm markets increases, state agriculture laws are adapting to meet the changes.
On-site farm markets are becoming more common and were recently added to the Michigan Right to Farm Act.
The law includes “marketing produce at roadside stands or farm markets” in its definition of a farm operation but doesn’t define farm markets or describe specific marketing activities, according to the Department of Agriculture.
Last year, the state adopted the Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices, or GAAMPs, for farm markets. The guidelines were developed to provide direction as to what constitutes an on-farm market and farm market activities and help resolve issues associated with zoning, buildings, parking, driveway access and signage.
Tom Kalchik, chair of the farm market GAAMPs review committee, said the guidelines resulted from demands from those involved with on-farm, or direct sales, activities.
Steve Klackle, owner of Klackle Orchards in Greenville, said that the GAAMPs address local regulation problems that farmers frequently experience.
“In my conversations with farm marketers I have heard, I won’t call them nightmares, but stories about, ‘they made me do this’ and ‘they made me do that’ and ‘it’s so confusing’ in terms of local regulations, so this isn’t an isolated issue that happens in certain areas. It’s throughout the state,” he said.
Kalchik, who is also director of Michigan State University’s Product Center for Agriculture and Natural Resources, said almost 6,400 farms were involved with direct sales in 2007, a 29 percent increase from 2002.
Revenue from their sales rose almost 58 percent during that period.
“Farm markets have become more on the radar for local governments and local people,” he said.
“The farmers that are practicing on-farm sales said, ‘Look, we’re running into these problems where the local units of government say that because we’re selling on our farm, we’re are no longer considered agriculture. They want to call us retail, all we’re doing is selling our farm products and they’re saying we don’t have a right to do that’,” Kalchik said.
The1981 Right to Farm Act and offers farmers protection from nuisance lawsuits and complaints if they follow the GAAMPs, which are reviewed annually by the Agriculture Commission.
Wayne Whitman, Right to Farm Program manager said, “When our department determines that a farm is following the GAAMPs that apply to it, a court shall not find that farm to be a public or private nuisance, so it provides farms an opportunity to earn nuisance protection.”
He said that the guidelines are recommended, but not enforceable.
As the GAAMPs for farm markets demonstrate, the law also helps protect farmers against local regulations that may be more restrictive than state ones.
Klackle said, “Rather than viewing it as protection against anything, I would view the GAAMPs for farm markets as making it a little easier, a little more business-friendly for the farmer to try and do business.”
Kalchik said that when local governments try to apply the rules and regulations for beauty shops or hardware stores to farm markets, it becomes too restrictive.
Klackle said that it isn’t feasible for some farm markets to make the improvements that other types of businesses might be required to make.
He said that the GAAMPs can make it easy to operate a farm market by addressing parking, access and use issues, such as allowing farmers to sell their agricultural products in agricultural zones, even though retailing is more of a commercial activity.
He said GAAMPs address the inconsistency of local regulations throughout the state.
“GAAMPs will help make it a little easier to deal with local zoning and building officials by creating more of a uniform blanket that applies around the state. One of the problems is that all townships are different and some townships treat things differently than others,” he said.
He said GAAMPs can mitigate disputes about farmers being treated differently depending, on whom they know in the township or issues of fairness between competing business in neighboring townships with drastically different regulations.
Kalchik said that while the farm market GAAMPs provides some protection, the issue of farm sales and agritourism is much broader than the Right to Farm Act.
He said that the farm market GAAMPs differs from others because not every part of a farm market is an agricultural activity. Farm owners should remember that they still must comply with local rules and regulations.
Klackle said that while the GAAMPs may not spur the creation of farm markets on their own, they will make the process easier.
“Hopefully those who are doing it or those who wish to get into it will find it a little more receptive at the local level. Ideally the farmer could present the GAAMP to the local officials and say, ‘I’m entitled to do this, but let’s work together on it, let’s formulate a plan and see what works here for me’,” he said.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.
By LAUREN WALKER