DAVISON TWP. — Cliff Knasinski said he saw weaknesses in the nation’s food supply chain as far back as 2019, prompting him to build up his half-acre property to provide for his family.
He made an organic farm to grow vegetables and over time added livestock such as goats, chickens and ducks.
His farm now produces about 40 percent of what he and his family eat currently, said Knasinski.
But for Knasinski, and about 230 other Davison Township residents who are developing their own suburban agriculture farms, the road to self-sufficiency hasn’t been easy due to the township’s ordinance about 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,” said Knasinski. “Right now, we’re focusing locally, but we do have a statewide group going.”
Ordinances were passed locally in 2015 when there was a change in the state law which took away the right for a lot of people to own livestock, he said.
At that time, the state changed the requirements to 5-acres for owning livestock as far as residences being protected under the Right to Farm Act. But in his opinion, Knasinski said ordinances passed by the township in recent years have been too restrictive.
“All over the country we have more and more people doing what we’re doing,” he said. “There’s no reason it can’t be done in a reasonable manner.”
Knasinski said his group, the Davison Township Homesteaders Association, along with similar groups across the state, have talked to Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s office to see about having an urban agriculture bill passed by the federal government to allow, but regulate, urban homesteading.
He said in 2019 he started farming on his property and had his pantry at home well-stocked when the pandemic hit the next year and around the country there were instances of empty store shelves.
A software engineer for Stellantis, Knasinski said he’s worked from home since March of 2020 and has been working even harder since the pandemic to grow his farm, believing supply chain issues and the rising cost of living were only going to get worse.
“So, we expanded,” he said.
Knasinski said he fenced in the property tightly so no animals could get out and added his goats, chicken and ducks. He said he grows squash, zucchini, peppers, carrots, herbs, beets, tomatoes, onions, cabbage, broccoli, winter squash, potatoes and beans – rotating crops each year so if something takes from the ground one year, the next year he plants something that puts nutrients back in the ground.
“As an engineer, I am all about data and research and doing things right,” he said. “No commercial fertilizers or pesticides are used here.”
All of his “fertilizer” is natural, produced by the animals and through composting.
Besides several garden beds in his yard, he also has a small greenhouse, barn and chicken coup.
Knasinski said there is no smell in his backyard from the farm animals, because he is careful about cleaning and proper composting of all waste generated by the livestock.
While the township is not aggressively citing people, who own livestock in areas not zoned for it, he said there are those who have been cited for other ordinance violations who will go around and turn in livestock owners as a sort of payback for their own citations.
Knasinski said he and his group want to work with the township.
Besides a recent appearance by some of the homesteaders before the township board to introduce themselves and explain what they are looking for, Knasinski said he’s writing up several ideas to take to Supervisor Jim Slezak with the hope he and the board of trustees can work with them to make changes.
Slezak acknowledged the residents who were at the meeting and who had emailed his office regarding the livestock issue and said he’d be happy to speak with anyone about their concerns.
Knasinski said in places like Detroit, San Diego, Denver and Boston there are sites in the city where people are allowed to own a couple of goats and up to 10 chickens and they end up doing fine.
“They don’t bother anyone; they keep it clean and they provide food for whole city blocks in the communities where they’re doing this,” said Knasinski, who adds he and many homesteaders in Davison Township donate food to Outreach East and to those who are in need. “We used to do this; agriculture as a community.”
He added that chicken coups are allowed in the city of Davison, Burton and Genesee Township.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture was recently at Knasinski’s home to see his farm and they issued him his Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices (GAAMPs) certification.
Knasinski said with this certification, which is part of the Michigan Right to Farm Act, P.A. 93, enacted in 1981 to provide farmers with nuisance protection, he hopes it will help demonstrate to the township show he is in full compliance with state law for his urban farm.
He said he also hopes it will help offer some direction to the township should it chose to look at its own farming and livestock 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 farm operations in Michigan.
These farm management practices are scientifically based and updated annually to utilize current technology promoting sound environmental stewardship on Michigan farms.
Deb Caryl, owner of D&S Farms in Davison Township and a longstanding member of the Genesee County 4-H, was also at the recent board meeting and said she’s lived here for more than 70 years and is concerned about the restrictions being placed on people who want to grow their own food.
“My family were farmers; I’m a farmer and when you start doing things that tell people they can’t grow their own produce or their meat I don’t think we’re being very truthful about where our food comes from,” she said. “If you don’t have the farmers, you don’t have the food. You don’t have the thing America was built on. You should really think about that.”
Caryl said the Department of Agriculture came up with the Right to Farm Act in 1998 so everyone with a plot has the right to grow their own food, fruit and vegetables.
“When the townships start stepping in and try to override that, I think you’d better think about it a little bit and let the kids in Davison Township raise chickens on less than 10 acres,” she said.
Knasinski said the group wants to be put on the agenda for a future meeting to talk about putting together a committee to look at the township’s urban agricultural ordinances.
The group will also be back at the township board’s Sept. 12 meeting at 6 p.m. at 1280 N. Irish Rd.