A district court judge has now twice ruled in favor of the city. The EldenBradys have been denied a business license because the city zoning ordinances do not specify farming as an approved activity. On Friday, the judge ruled that keeping livestock in Muskegon is illegal, again because the zoning ordinance does not specifically allow agriculture. Joshua and Anna plan to appeal the case, but will have to get rid of their goats. Joshua is also working on a proposed state law that would remedy this type of situation where urban farming is being completely banned. More details to come in a future post.
UPDATE: Click here for an update on this story.
In the Lake Michigan city of Muskegon, Joshua and Anna EldenBrady are growing good food, and would like to share it with their neighbors. The EldenBradys would like to create a farm market, but have run into bureaucratic roadblocks like so many other small farmers around the country in recent years. Joshua is my brother, and although we now live in different states, we both share a passion for growing things that was fostered in our childhood on a small farm in northern Michigan.
The story begins 3 years ago when Joshua and Anna decided to move to the city of Muskegon because they thought it would be friendly to urban farming. They bought a house at a tax sale and have since been able to acquire several other vacant city lots and are working to establish soil fertility and grow more vegetables every year. After a recent decision to move a local farmers market out of a nearby neighborhood and into downtown Muskegon, Joshua and Anna decided it was time to set up a farm market on their property, to give residents of their own neighborhood more options for purchasing fresh local food.
Joshua and Anna applied for a business license for the farm market, as required by city regulations, but initially got no response to their application. After contacting the city's zoning department, Joshua was told that the application had been denied. Why? Because no one was allowed to grow vegetables to sell inside the city of Muskegon. How could this be, Joshua wondered, when several community gardens in his neighborhood were selling their produce at the city's farmer's market?
It only got worse for the EldenBradys last month when a Muskegon Police officer showed up at their door and handed Joshua a ticket for the goats that they keep in the yard behind their house. What were they accused of doing wrong? The officer couldn't say. Joshua was accused of violating the city's animal ordinance, which states that livestock are allowed as long as certain conditions are met. The officer said he was told by someone in the city administration to cite Joshua, but he didn't know which one of the conditions Joshua was accused of violating. A 2nd citation for the goats was issued a week later.
Pygmy goat kid / photo by Anna EldenBrady
Here's where the EldenBrady's case stands currently: A hearing has been scheduled before the Muskegon Zoning Board of Appeals this Tuesday, August 13th. Joshua and Anna will have a chance to state their case for why they should be allowed to set up a farm market in their neighborhood.
Incredibly, several local community gardens are allowed to engage in exactly the same activities for which the EldenBrady's are being denied a business license: growing and selling vegetables. Zoning Administration Mike Franzak told Joshua in an email that the city zoning does not allow farming, but that "A Community Garden is considered a gardening use, not farming." When Joshua asked for a clarification of the difference between gardening and farming, he did not get a clear answer. Franzak told him that the city does "not have a zoning definition or classification for commercial farming because it is not allowed in the City limits."
The Zoning Board hearing is scheduled for 4pm on Tuesday, August 13th, at Muskegon City Hall on Terrace Street. Joshua and Anna say they would love to have supporters show up, if you happen to live in the area.
To be continued...