COMSTOCK TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A farm in Comstock Township is being forced to shut down over alleged permit and zoning violations.
For more than five years, Benjamin Martin and his family provided fresh produce and Christmas trees at their business, Soil Friends. But it eventually became more than that.
“We decided to focus more on customers coming directly to the farm instead of selling food off the farm, and as well as making value-added products here,” Martin said.
They started serving hard cider after getting approved for a liquor license. Soil Friends also put picnic tables inside their barn for people to enjoy it and buy produce, much like an indoor farmers market.
“We have butternut squash, acorn squash … gourds, things that are very susceptible to the frost. Those were inside so we didn’t have to move them in and out every night,” Martin explained. “The public would go in there, they’d buy their products, and the barn door was open, and people were spread across the farm.”
But in October, a local inspector took issue with their setup. They issued several citations for violations related to what they were doing inside the barn, and it was condemned. But now, the township is shutting down the entire farm.
News 8 reached out to Comstock Township administrators, who sent a statement about why they’re shutting down the property.
“The permitted use of the barn and property was originally agricultural,” the statement reads. “Since the use has changed, proper zoning and permitting are required. The current use of the building violates many codes and ordinances.”
“There’s nothing about this farm that’s not agriculturally related,” Martin said. “We are using agriculture to make products. People are coming here to buy and consume agriculture.”
Comstock Township administrators also say they have met more than once with Martin to walk through the details and the necessary information for a building permit.
“A building permit cannot be issued until the Planning Commission has granted special exception use and site plan approval. Application for this approval has not been made by the owner,” according to the statement.
While the township was in communication with him, Martin also says the requirement to have a different permit for the barn was not disclosed, while wondering why his entire farm is being shut down if only one building was the issue.
“To find out it’s for the same requirements as for a wedding (venue), why weren’t we informed?” Martin asked. “Now we’ve gone from a barn that we can’t use to the entire property. It doesn’t make any sense.”
According to the compliance order issued by Kalamazoo County District Court, the business will shut down Saturday, Dec. 3. Until then, Martin says he has an open mind for what his family’s next course of action is.
“I have four kids in the family. This is a first-generation family farm,” Martin said. “Every day matters.”