Property Rights

Family Farmers Fight Michigan Township For Their Animals

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Kelly Vander Kley Hunter and her family have spent the last three years pouring their time and money into building a small hobby farm in Mattawan, MI. Today, they are fighting their local township government in order to keep their farm animals.

"We feel like we're under a microscope. We feel like everything we do, on our own property, we have to get permission from the township," says Vander Kley Hunter. 

Roughly a three hour drive from Detroit, Mattawan is a rural community that is home to many small farms with many farm animals.

Yet Vander Kley Hunter had still checked before purchasing the property to make sure that having animals would be all right, and the township confirmed that farm animals were indeed allowed. But earlier this summer, the Hunters received a letter stating that their farm was no longer in compliance with the township zoning ordinance and that they had 90 days to get rid of more than half of their animals.

"It knocked the wind out of my sails," says Vander Kley Hunter, "I was pretty depressed for awhile over it."

Vander Kley Hunter says that her neighbor complained to the township about the animals, thus prompting the township to reinterpret the ordinance and state that the Hunter farm was out of compliance.

"The local government can change the zoning of any parcel of land on a whim," says Reason Foundation's Adrian Moore, "it's being played out basically on crony politics rather than any kind of real, objective standard."

Moore says that property rights have eroded vastly over the last 100 years in America, and that these kinds of issues should be resolved in the courts, not in the political arena that is far more susceptible to abuse.

"The fact that the

neighbors are using the political process rather than the court system already says they've got a somewhat suspicious complaint."

Moore says the only way to fight a political battle is with politics, and that the community has to rise up against the township. Luckily for the Hunters, the community has come to their aid and is speaking out against the township at regular town hall meetings.

"The support that we've received from all of this has been completely overwhelming, I've never experienced anything like it," says Vander Kley Hunter.

Vander Kley Hunter is hopeful that the community's support combined with her family's persistence will be enough to save her animals.

About 5:30 minutes.

Written and produced by Tracy Oppenheimer; camera by Zach Weissmueller and Oppenheimer.

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