Throughout the last 100-or-so years, rapid urbanization has driven many farmers out of formerly-rural areas that have now become urban and suburban enclaves. And while every state in America now has some type of “right-to-farm” law on the books to protect farmers, who find themselves surrounded by new development, from being sued as a “nuisance,” many cities and towns lack specific protections for backyard farmers whose livelihoods depend on their freedom to grow and raise food.
The tragic case involving Andrew Wordes from Roswell, Georgia, for instance, which we reported on recently, is a chilling example of what happens when government goes wild against food and farm freedom (http://www.naturalnews.com/035524_Andrew_Wordes_Roswell_chickens.html). And while basic protections had been in place to protect Wordes from being assaulted and ultimately driven to death by his local “public servants,” these protections clearly were not enough to stop the tragedy that unfolded.
All across the country today, local farmers are facing similar troubles as they are being threatened by their neighbors, raided by the Feds, and ultimately targeted for extinction by those who seek to destroy the right to farm and grow food freely. And if we as Americans hope to preserve any semblance of food production and access that is not controlled by corporate conglomerates like Monsanto, then we must act now to pass, or strengthen existing, right-to-farm laws that protect our sources of sustenance from being bullied into oblivion.
Every U.S. state has enacted laws to protect farms, but are they enough?
According to the American Farmland Trust, a conservation organization devoted to protecting American farms, right-to-farm laws were designed to “strengthen the legal position of farmers when neighbors sue them for private nuisance,” and to “protect farmers from anti-nuisance ordinances and unreasonable controls on farming operations” (http://www.farmland.org).
In many states, right-to-farm laws supersede even local laws that might run contrary to them. In Pennsylvania, for instance, state law mandates that every municipality in the state “encourage the continuity, development and viability of agricultural operations within its jurisdiction,” regardless of whatever local laws may arise in opposition to this mandate (http://www.nationalaglawcenter.org/assets/righttofarm/pennsylvania.pdf).
The situation is much the same in Virginia, where counties are prohibited from enacting laws that unfairly target farms located in close proximity to non-agricultural development. Counties cannot try to rezone agricultural property to force a farmer off his property, for instance, or place unreasonable restrictions and regulations on farmers in an attempt to force them from their land (http://www.nationalaglawcenter.org/assets/righttofarm/virginia.pdf).
You can view a state-by-state breakdown of right-to-farm laws here:
But are these protections enough? It seems like an increasing number of American farmers are finding themselves in situations where they are being bullied off their land, despite the existence of these right-to-farm laws. Michigan’s recent ban on heirloom pigs, for instance, which has led to actual armed raids on pig farmers, is one stunning example of how governments are backhandedly targeting farmers and bypassing right-to-farm laws (http://www.naturalnews.com/035585_Michigan_farms_raids.html).
Farms that modernize or expand often not covered by right-to-farm laws
One major concern with many right-to-farm laws as they currently exist is that they only protect farms that continue performing the same functions, and on the same amount of land, as they always have. Farms that upgrade equipment, modernize, or expand their operations in any way are still subject to litigation should a neighbor or city official decide to sue for “nuisance” problems.
This is precisely what happened in Vermont back in the mid-1990s when an orchard owner was sued by a neighbor under nuisance charges. Because the orchard had undergone improvements and expansion, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that it was not eligible for right-to-farm protections (http://libraries.vermont.gov).
Because of this, food and farm freedom advocates worked to get Vermont’s right-to-farm laws updated, and in 2004 were able to add protection provisions for farms that expand, upgrade, or in some other way modify their farming operations. The statutes were also updated to protect farmers in non-urban areas as well, many of which also face persecution from neighbors and municipalities for trying to farm (http://www.smartgrowthvermont.org).
Do your state’s right-to-farm statutes protect all farms against nuisance lawsuits?
Vermont is the exception rather than the rule when it comes to proactively trying to protect farmers against nuisance lawsuits. Most U.S. states have barebones protections that can easily be bypassed by crafty lawyers trained in navigating “legalese,” which means urban and non-urban farmers everywhere are at risk.
If you are unaware of the right-to-farm laws in your own state, you may wish to check them out here: http://www.nationalaglawcenter.org/assets/righttofarm/index.html
If there are no specific protections for all existing farms, both urban and non-urban, or if there are restrictions on the size and production capacity of farms that are covered under right-to-farm laws, then those laws are inadequate and in need of being amended. Because all existing farms, regardless of their size, production capacity, or location, have a right to operate without interference from the state.
If the right-to-farm laws in your state are lacking, it might be a good idea to contact your local representatives and state senators to urge support for amended right-to-farm legislation that:
• Protects all existing farms against nuisance lawsuits
• Conforms with all federal, state, and local laws and regulations
• Remains consistent with good agricultural practices
The idea is not necessarily to create an “anything goes” situation where farms can simply operate anywhere under any circumstances, but rather to protect existing farms from being eliminated by cunning legal maneuvers. The lifeblood of America is its ability to produce clean, safe food, and this will not be possible if its farmers are litigated into oblivion.