In 1864, when Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman conducted his famous March to the Sea, splitting George apart like a ripe peach, his troops lived totally off the bounty of the land.
Sherman’s Union army, marching without supplies, did not want for anything, while up north the Army of Virginia was experiencing disease and starvation as Gen. Robert E. Lee fought the Confederacy’s last desperate battles.
Georgia’s ability to produce a bounty has not been in question since those Civil War days. Now some Georgia lawmakers believe the state’s local zoning laws are hampering food production, and they’ve introduced a “Right to Grow” bill to change that.
Led by Powder Springs Republican Earl Ehrhart, who represents Cobb County in Georgia’s General Assembly, the lawmakers want to lift the requirement that homeowners have at least two acres before they can raise livestock.
Ehrhart says people should be free to raise chickens and grow backyard crops on their property. He says the Right to Grow bill represents a basic freedom, recalling those days when Georgians all grew their own food.
The Georgia Right to Grow is aimed at crops and livestock grown by homeowners for their own consumption. Nothing they produce could be for commercial use.
Local code enforcement could still address property if it became so dirty that it might be a public nuisance. Both local governments and private citizens could still bring nuisance actions under the proposed law.
While a similar bill introduced last session went nowhere, events have pushed Right to Grow to the forefront, including citations issued recently to Leigh and Danny Savage of Power Springs for raising 15 chickens in their backyard.
The couple said their chickens were not bothering anyone, but they were still visited by a code enforcement officer. They have until Feb. 10 to move their birds.
The Right to Grow measure is House Bill 853 in the Georgia Assembly. Others in the bipartisan group of sponsors include Rep. Tom McCall, R-Elberton, Rep. Terry “Pete” England, R-Winder, Rep. Jay Roberts, R-Ocilla, and Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale.
As drafted, the Georgia Right to Grow Act defines “crops” as fruits and the products of all annual or perennial plants, trees or shrubs.
The bill goes on to say “no county, municipality, consolidated government or local government authority shall prohibit or require any permit for the growing or raising of food crops or chickens or rabbits in home gardens, crops or pens on private residential property so long as such food crops or animals or the products thereof are eased for human consumption by the occupant of such property and members of his or her household and not for commercial purposes.”
No mention is made in the bill of any exemptions from existing licensing and inspection laws, but those may not be required because food grown on the property can only be consumed by the individual household and cannot be sold commercially.
Georgia’s cities, however, are mounting vigorous opposition to the Right to Grow bill. The Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) “is opposed to this bill as we believe these types of decisions are best made at the local level, instead of a ‘one type fits all’ piece of legislation,” GMA spokeswoman Amy Henderson told Food Safety News.
Last year, Georgia cities managed to keep an earlier version of the Right to Grow bill from advancing beyond the second reading calendar in the Assembly.