(Lou Santucci says that farming is hard enough without trying to kill the spirit of those who do farm on the Old Mission Peninsula, but he believes that’s what the Township is doing. “There is enough farmland going fallow without trying to ruin the farmers’ financial incentives to keep farming,” he says. Read on… -jb)
After plowing under those pesky Old Mission Peninsula farmers, and in order to ensure they stay down like a bad weed, a Township zoning person recently decided to pay a visit to at least two farmers on the Peninsula. The most recent visit was Friday, May 20.
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Imagine the excitement everyone has with the arrival of good weather and the opening of the farm stands here on the Peninsula. This excitement goes two ways. Both the farmers and the Peninsula townspeople await with eager anticipation the opening of the stands.
A recent story in Old Mission Gazette even featured news about several farm stands, along with a sad note about the deer ruining the entire tulip crop of one of our farmers.
You can buy lettuce, herbs, starter plants and other early veggies at the farm stands that open early in the season. At one of the stands, you may even be lucky enough to score some ramps or morels.
So what happened recently is, in my view, mean spirited and wrong.
Here are the facts. Two farmers decided to sell spring flowers in hanging baskets on their newly-opened stands. One of these stands was opened on a parcel of land bought last year at quite an expense. And knowing the farmer who will operate this stand, you can bet you will find some of the best produce on the Peninsula. I know for a fact that they will be planting around 20,000 strawberry plants, so that we and others can pick our own strawberries. I can’t wait – fresh strawberries right here just down the street from my house!
So back to this week. Until cherries and other summer fruits and vegetables are ready, both farmers decided to sell the hanging baskets.
Imagine their surprise when they were told by the Township official that their flowers could not be sold. The result being they might have to be destroyed. It may or may not have been possible to return them – at a cost which could be significant.
The legal issue is whether or not potted plants could be sold. Well, guess what? They can be sold because Peninsula Township’s own definition of a roadside stand says so! See section 6.7 A-1 District: Agricultural (8) of the current zoning ordinance. Potted plants are among the enumerated agricultural products which can be sold listed in the definition section of the Township’s roadside stand ordinance:
“Roadside stands selling regionally grown fresh and/or processed farm produce, raw forest products, cut flowers, potted plants, agricultural and forest products…”
So, what gives? Well, the zoning person insisted that they could not be sold because 50 percent or more of them were not grown by the farmer. The Township ordinance says nothing about percentages. A recent proposal to amend the farm stand ordinance did talk about a 50 percent rule, but it applies to 50 percent of your total yearly sales in any one of the last five years. Clearly, the minor sales of these flowers would easily fit that proposed measure.
So the question remains, why is the Township zoning person harassing these farmers by trying to apply non-existent rules? One can only wonder.
Are our farmers to be constantly faced with the dilemma of, do as I say even if wrong or go to court? A costly process, to say the least.
Why doesn’t Peninsula Township extend a friendly hand instead of this hamfisted approach?
Township officials should not be complicit in these actions. Isn’t it time for a change in tactics with regard to the zoning folks and the farmers? The Township officials constantly say they support the farmers, yet their actions say otherwise.
Let’s have some accountability here. Our Township resources can be better spent on helping the farmers.
I guess the Township officials would like to close off the ability for us townsfolk to buy our hanging baskets out here, and instead, prefer that we drive into town, thus adding to the traffic flow they claim they care so much about.
Shouldn’t the Township be working toward making it easier for farmers to earn a living, rather than squelching them at every turn?
If you agree, please write or call the Township and tell them you want this to stop. Tell them you support your farmers and their farm stands and would like the ability to buy hanging baskets here.
This kind of nitpicking is a waste of time, energy and money. Honestly, farming is hard enough without trying to kill the spirit of those who do farm. Because that is exactly what the Township is doing. There is enough farmland going fallow without trying to ruin the farmers’ financial incentives to keep farming.
After I sent the opinion piece on the hanging plants, I had a chance to review the cease and disgust order issued by the township.
Again in complete disregard of the right to farm act GAAMP
for farm markets the zoning person stated that the stand in question was larger than 150 square feet.
The GAAMP for farm stands which supersedes the local ordinance puts no limits on size and only imposed a setback when the stand is within 155 feet of a residence. The township is well aware of this having had two presentations from state officials on this master. and if this comes to a court case the state officials will testify to that fact and the judge as in other cases would find the town at fault. At that pointthe twin could be subject to triple damages and court costs.
Before they go down this road they can request the GAAMP state folks to come and review the stand for compliance.
Again I ask why should any farmer be subject to this constant bashing. Isn’t it time for the town to recognize they are in the wrong and instruct their enforcement people to follow the right to farm act. Don’t take my word for it read it yourself here:
Thank you Lou, for always providing legal perspectives and truths. What do these township officials not understand about the law? Maybe it’s time to bring in higher powers to deal with them. They are not creating a community that resonates with those who live and visit this beautiful peninsula.
Recall or vote them out of office. Reasoning seems to be beyond them and a lawsuit just uses up township and personal resources.