Photo credit: Randy Buchler/Shady Grove Farm

My name is Randy Buchler. Along with Libby and our 2 kids, Hala (12) and Teyan (9), we own and operate Shady Grove Farm U.P. In 2001, after the birth of our first child, we decided to move back to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to be closer to our roots.

We landed in the small town of Gwinn in Marquette County, where Libby has family ties. The home we moved into, which has been in the family since the 1940’s, was nestled on 13 acres in the “Lake Residential District” and offered a multitude of opportunities for our growing family.

After the initial challenges of the move, we began developing a plan for self-sufficiency. In 2002, we planted a garden and, by 2003, kept a small flock of 25 chickens. I was working full time away from home; Libby was working overtime as a stay at home mom and farmer.

Libby and Randy of Shady Grove Farm - Photo Credit: Kyle Miron

The growth of our homestead was slow and steady, but we were persistent and passionate about expanding and providing more for our family.

The sale of 2 parcels of land, from the original 13 acres, left us with 6.5 acres of workable land and before we knew it, we had more garden plots, and 50, then 75, then 100 layers and were selling eggs to friends, neighbors and our local food co-op!

Putting quality food into the hands of our community was a great feeling. The bounty of our harvests was abundant. The pantry was filling up with canned foods and we were inspired to do more!

January of 2008, I suffered a spine injury at work that caused a permanent disability and left me unable to return to work. Still able to walk after surgery, I continued farming. By mid 2008, our garden plots were growing a diverse selection of veggies, herbs and berries. We added a flock of wool sheep for Libby’s love of spinning, knitting and felting.

The lifestyle of our dreams was unfolding before our eyes, but in a rather unexpected way.

With nearly $100,000 in unpaid medical bills hovering over our heads and a workman’s comp battle, we did our best to remain positive and keep our forward progression. I was on the path to healing and we were succeeding in providing larger quantities of quality, nutrient dense food for our community and ourselves.

On August 6, 2009 our world came crashing down around us. That is the day we received our “Notice of Violation” from Forsyth Township. The notice stated that we were in violation of zoning due to our agricultural activity. Agriculture is neither a permissible nor a conditional use in the “Lake Residential District.”

I was shocked. It was unacceptable that we would have to stop peacefully producing food due to outdated zoning and small town politics. At this point, I made the heavy decision to not “cease and desist all agricultural activity.”

As a family, we decided we would continue farming, despite the threats. I decided to attend township planning commission meetings and educate myself on zoning and property rights. We grieved at the thought of losing our farm and losing everything we had built over the past 3-4 years. This was our life!

At the meetings, we shared our story. We wanted to do our best to achieve a compromised resolution. I offered to volunteer to sit on a committee to help amend the current zoning.

We applied for a $250 special exception, upon their recommendation. After numerous meetings, that too was denied.

Discovering A Secret: Michigan’s “Right to Farm Act”

As I continued to research, I stumbled across the Michigan Right to Farm Act. We were made privy to the MAEAP program (Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program). We started working with 2 state agencies to achieve the status of an Environmentally Verified farm. I had multiple discussions with regulatory agencies as well as attorneys. I felt I had one last shot to put this issue to rest and keep our farm.

I shared some of this new found knowledge at another planning commission meeting. I presented the Michigan Right to Farm Act to the board and explained to them that we felt strongly that we were protected by this State law, which supersedes local zoning. It got their attention, but not for very long.

After several months of unsuccessfully trying to resolve the issue, we agreed to disagree. The township attorney said, “…I have no other option but to take them to court.” [1]

According to Kevin Koch, Forsyth’s attorney, “‘The timing is most critical. If someone moves next to a hog farm that’s in operation legitimately and complains about it, that’s the type of practice the Right to Farm Act was intended to discourage,” he said. “When someone moves into an area where their agricultural practice is not allowed and then says, ‘I have the right to farm, despite zoning,’ that creates an issue.” [2]

He was right. It did create quite the issue. Who would have thought we would end up in court for growing and raising our own food and wool?

But little did they know, I had done my homework. We were successful in becoming Environmentally Verified and Pete Kennedy, President of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, informed me that the FTCLDF would represent us in court if need be!

With the help of Kyle Miron of Frontiersmen Media, we created a short video (below) to gain support and to inform citizens of our plight. Our ducks were in a row here at Shady Grove and we were headed to court on a quest for Food Freedom!

The Buchlers Go to Trial

A 2 day trial was scheduled for November 20th and 21st, 2012 in Marquette county. Ironically, these were the two days before Thanksgiving, when we celebrate the bounty of the harvest. The FTCLDF hired local attorney Michelle Halley as our lead council, with Steve Bemis, FTCLDF attorney and board member, as co-council. We were prepared to defend our right to farm!

We presented a powerful case utilizing the Michigan Right to Farm Act while Forsyth Township was grasping for straws. The testimony given on our behalf was strong; the township’s was flawed at best.

At the conclusion of day 2, the Honorable Judge Solka gave his closing statements and allowed himself 30 days to issue a ruling. Our heads were held high and we were confident, as one of the judge’s closing remarks was, “…on the other hand, the Buchlers are afforded all of the rights they are afforded under the law and constitution, including the Right to Farm Act…”

Yes, he used the words “Constitution and Right to Farm Act” all in the same sentence. I felt like the hundreds of hours I spent researching and learning were going to pay off!

On December 18th, 2012, Judge Solka signed the papers with his decision. Christmas had come early for Shady Grove Farm. Finally, after 39 months, it was over and the victory was ours! Forsyth Township decided not to appeal and our work continued as we carried out our Right to Farm.

The Future for Small Farms & Homesteads

Since our case, I have volunteered many hours to consult with farmers who are experiencing some of the same difficulties I faced. As a founding member of the Michigan Small Farm Council, my work towards Food Freedom continues.

In the end, a spine injury, a workman’s comp victory and a Michigan Right to Farm victory have put us on a rewarding path. The amount of good that has come from what appeared to be negative on the surface is priceless!

Today, we continue to exercise our Right to Farm, utilizing permaculture practices, producing Certified Naturally Grown, soy free eggs and a diverse selection of veggies, herbs, berries and woolen goods.

Randy and Libby of Shady Grove Farm with Joel Salatin - Photo credit: Randy BuchlerPlease help us in our continued quest for Food Freedom. Take control of your own food supply. We must not ever let our guard down and must always stay informed. Our case is proof that knowledge IS power. Together, we can take back our food system!

Footnotes:

  • [1] Recording of Forsyth Township Board Meeting
  • [2] Marquette Mining Journal, May 26, 2012

Randy Buchler is a farmer, Food Freedom activist, and board member for the Michigan Small Farm Council. In addition to working hard on strengthening the local food system, he volunteers much of his time working on creating an awareness of regulatory agencies attempts to strip us of our Food rights. Some of that work includes consulting with farmers having Right to Farm issues as well as working with MSFC members to stop policy changes that will negatively impact small farms.

Photo Credit: Kyle Miron

Randy Buchler

Randy Buchler

Randy Buchler is a small family farmer at Shady Grove Farm U.P. and a farm food rights activist in Michigan. Randy is on the Board of Directors for the Michigan Small Farm Council. The MSFC (http://MichiganSmallFarmCouncil.org) has been working hard to protect Michigan's small farms' Right to Farm Act.
Randy Buchler

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