COMSTOCK TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The day before a family farm in Comstock Township is supposed to close its nonagricultural operations, the township is clarifying why the issues were brought to its attention.

In a statement released Friday, the township said its “recent enforcement of action is actually a result of customer complaints regarding the condition of the (Soil Friends) property.”

In October, a local inspector issued several citations for violations related to what the farm was doing inside the barn. The township also discovered that there were problems with the liquor license.

The barn was constructed in 2019 without building permits, the township said. This is allowed when the building is used for agricultural purposes on the land where the building is located.

“As soon as Soil Friends invites customers into the building and/or uses it for other than a strictly agricultural purpose, the building code requires a building permit, supported by sealed plans, inspections and safety standards, such as ingress/egress, restrooms and the like,” Friday’s statement said.

When the farm added an “outdoor service area,” the township said it needed special licenses and permits to do so: a “manufacturer/direct shipper” license, a “salesperson” license and an “on-premises tasting room permit.”

The township said that the property was also being used for nonagricultural uses like food and beverage service, photo events, a 5K run, live music, building rentals, etc. without the proper permits.

Soil Friends, a farm in Comstock Township.
Soil Friends, a farm in Comstock Township.

When the township approved the liquor license, it was for making wine as a small winemaker out of the fruit that was grown on the farm and “too ugly to sell,” the statement posted on Facebook said. The tastings were supposed to be served out of the only included building on the property, a shipping container.

“The township determined that the small winemaker and tasting was an accessory to the farm use and did not require a special use approval for ‘tasting room and sales,'” the statement said.

Soil Friends, a farm in Comstock Township, starting serving hard cider after getting approved for a liquor license.
Soil Friends, a farm in Comstock Township, started serving hard cider after getting approved for a liquor license.

In Friday’s statement, the township said that in order to qualify as a farm market, according to the state of Michigan, at least 50% of the items offered for sale on the farm must be grown on the farm.

“Presently, the sale of pumpkins and other items grown on the farm are clearly less than 50% of the overall retail sales. There are no fruit trees on the farm, so the ingredients for the wine/beer are imported, as are the Christmas Trees, wreaths and many of the other items offered for sale on the property,” the statement read.

The township said it has notified Soil Friends about the issues since May 2019 and the farm hasn’t applied for or obtained the necessary approvals despite the township offering “guidance and assistance through the necessary approval process.”

According to the compliance order issued by Kalamazoo County District Court, the business will shut down Saturday. However, Friday’s statement clarified that the “operation is not ‘shut down.” The township said the agricultural use of the property may continue but the commercial and nonagricultural uses must stop until zoning and building code is approved.

Soil Friends filed a motion for reconsideration on Thursday.