Residents hope to change township farming and livestock rules

Cliff Knasinski with his organic farm in Davison Township. Photo by Gary Gould

DAVISON TWP. – Cliff Knasinski said he saw weaknesses in the country’s food supply chain as early as 2019, prompting him to build his half-acre property to support his family.

He made an organic farm to grow vegetables and over time he added livestock like goats, chickens and ducks.

His farm now produces about 40% of what he and his family currently eat, Knasinski said.

But for Knasinski and about 230 other residents of Davison Township who are developing their own suburban agricultural farms, the road to self-sufficiency has not been easy due to the township’s ordinance on raising livestock in the community. .

“We would like to see an urban-agricultural ordinance put in place that you can go through a committee to be certified to do these kinds of activities,” Knasinski said. “Right now we’re focused locally, but we have a statewide group.”

Ordinances were passed locally in 2015 when there was a change in state law that stripped many people of the right to own livestock, he said.

At this time, the state changed the requirements to 5 acres for owning livestock with respect to protected residences under the Right to Farm Act. But in his opinion, Knasinski said the ordinances passed by the township in recent years were too restrictive.

“Across the country we have more and more people doing what we do,” he said. “There’s no reason it can’t be done in a reasonable way.”

Knasinski said his group, the Davison Township Homesteaders Association, along with similar groups across the state, spoke to Senator Debbie Stabenow’s office to discuss how to get the government to pass an urban agriculture bill. to authorize, but regulate, urban property.

He said in 2019 he started farming on his property and had his home pantry fully stocked when the pandemic hit the following year and across the country there were cases of shelves. empty.

A software engineer for Stellantis, Knasinski said he has been working from home since March 2020 and has been working even harder since the pandemic to grow his farm, believing supply chain issues and rising cost of living would only get worse.

“So we expanded,” he said.

Knasinski said he fenced the property tightly so no animals could get out and added his goats, chickens and ducks. He said he grew squash, zucchini, peppers, carrots, herbs, beets, tomatoes, onions, cabbage, broccoli, winter squash, potatoes and beans – by alternating crops each year, so if something takes soil one year, the next year he plants something that puts nutrients back into the soil.

“As an engineer, I’m all about data and research and doing it right,” he said. “No commercial fertilizers or pesticides are used here.”

All of its “fertilizer” is natural, produced by animals and by composting.

Besides several flower beds in his garden, he also has a small greenhouse, a barn and a chicken coop.

Knasinski said there is no smell in his garden from farm animals because he is careful about cleaning and proper composting of all waste generated by livestock.

While the township does not aggressively cite people who own livestock in areas that are not zoned for it, it said there are those who have been cited for other ordinance violations who will do the round and will return livestock owners as a sort of reward for their own citations. .

Knasinski said he and his group wanted to work with the township.

Along with a recent appearance by some of the farmers before the township council to introduce themselves and explain what they are looking for, Knasinski said he was writing several ideas to present to supervisor Jim Slezak in the hopes that he and the council administration could work with them. to make changes.

Slezak acknowledged the residents who were at the meeting who had emailed his office regarding the cattle issue and said he would be happy to speak to anyone about their concerns.

Knasinski said in places like Detroit, San Diego, Denver and Boston, there are sites around town where people are allowed to own a few goats and up to 10 chickens and they eventually get by.

“They don’t bother anyone; they keep it clean and they provide food to entire city blocks in the communities where they do,” said Knasinski, who adds that he and many Davison Township farmers donate food to Outreach East and those who need it. “We used to do that; farming as a community.

He added that chicken shots are allowed in the town of Davison, Burton and Genesee Township.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture recently visited Knasinski’s home to view his farm and issued him their Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices (GAAMP) certification.

Knasinski said that with this certification, which is part of the Michigan Right to Farm Act, PA 93, enacted in 1981 to provide farmers protection from nuisances, he hopes it will help demonstrate to the township that it is in full compliance with state law for its urban farm.

He added that he also hoped it would help give direction to the township if it chose to consult its own agriculture and ranching ordinances.

This state law authorizes the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development to develop and adopt Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices (GAAMPs) for farms and agricultural operations in Michigan.

These farm management practices are science-based and updated annually to use current technology to promote sound environmental stewardship on Michigan farms.

Deb Caryl, owner of D&S Farms in Davison Township and longtime Genesee County 4-H member, was also at the recent board meeting and said she has lived here for more than 70 years and that she was worried about restrictions on people who want to grow their own food.

“My family was made up of farmers; I’m a farmer and when you start doing things that tell people they can’t grow their own produce or their own meat, I don’t think we’re saying very honestly where our food comes from,” he said. she stated. “If you don’t have farmers, you don’t have food. You don’t have the thing America was built on. You should really think about it.

Caryl said the Department of Agriculture proposed the Right to Farm Act in 1998 so that anyone with a plot would have the right to grow their own food, fruits and vegetables.

“When the townships start stepping in and trying to override that, I think you better think about it a bit and let the Davison Township kids raise chickens on less than 10 acres,” he said. she declared.

Knasinski said the group wants to be put on the agenda for an upcoming meeting to discuss forming a committee to review the township’s urban agricultural ordinances.

The group will also be back at the township council meeting on Sept. 12 at 6 p.m. at 1280 N. Irish Rd.

About Keneth T. Graves

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