When Jessica Hudson moved with her family to a small rural community located east of Lansing, Mich., last summer, she thought she had finally found the solution to her kids' troubling dietary issues. She never imagined she might be headed to court.
Hudson says that her five young children suffer from a long list of serious food allergies, including soy and corn, which severely impairs their ability to eat a balanced diet. Hudson and her husband, Jeremiah, have had an especially difficult time finding affordable non-allergenic eggs and milk to provide the kids with protein. They moved to Williamstown Township, Mich., with the goal of creating a ranch where they could raise their own animals on contaminant-free diets. Although they've succeeded in establishing a 1.5-acre homestead, Sweet Peas Farm, their animals -- including pigs, goats, chickens and rabbits -- have not been received warmly by local officials.
(Scroll down to see photos of the animals at Sweet Peas Farms)
Hudson told The Huffington Post that she had initially cleared the animals with the township before they moved, but received a letter last November saying that her farm violated a local zoning ordinance. Although Hudson has tried to settle the matter through official channels, she said the townships' board of trustees voted at their meeting last week to refer the issue to their counsel for legal action.
"They're cordial and sympathetic when they speak with me," she said, "and yet when they vote, they're not voting with their sympathies. They're voting what they believe to be the law."
Hudson insists her family has a legal right to raise animals since they plan to sell animal products.
"I feel it's going to culminate at some point in a trial, because we're not planning to back down. We feel we are completely protected by the state's Right To Farm Act."
She asserts that the 1981 Michigan law protects commercial farms in Michigan from local nuisance ordinances, as long as they are in compliance with certain guidelines. Last year, another Michigan couple, the Buchlers, won a similar case in Marquette County Circuit Court based on the law.
The township, however, has a different take on the situation. Williamstown Township supervisor Mickey Martin told WILX-TV that the Hudsons were keeping the animals in an "R-1" zone, a residential zone where farm animals are not allowed, adding that legal protection doesn't extend to zoning issues. She also said she couldn't find any township employee who could recall Hudson's original request for information on keeping animals on her property.
Hudson, however, points out in an entry on her blog that the "high-residential" zone where her property sits only has six houses distributed over 70 acres of land.
In an interview with the Lansing State Journal, Martin defended the zoning code.
"There are good reasons to have these types of zoning laws in place," Martin told the newspaper. "Although we are sympathetic to her situation, we have to abide by our zoning."
The Hudson family could be fined up to $100 for the animals, and be required to pay some of the township's legal fees, according to the Journal, citing the Williamstown Township website. Hudson believes that her family will face further sanctions and be forced to remove the animals if she doesn't pursue a legal challenge. In addition to concerns about her children's nutritional needs, she said that her children are worried about losing animals that they consider pets.
Anticipating a legal battle, she has taken to social media to raise awareness and support for her struggle. With the help of a survivalist podcast hosted by an Internet broadcaster named Jack Spirko, she says she's raised more than $10,000 for her struggle, or about half her projected legal expenses.
A request for comment to the township had not been returned at the time of publication.
Despite the groundswell of support, Hudson thinks its "crazy" that lawyers may be needed to resolve this issue.
"We really tried to do everything right and still it blew up in our faces," she said. "It's just been so confusing and so disheartening that something so little as us just trying to feed our family has become such a huge thing."