Future of Farm Site Topic of Public Meeting

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Future of Brickyard Farm Site Is Topic of June 9 Public Meeting at Potomac Community Center 

31-Year-Old Organic Farm: Unique Asset for Food and Ag Education  

Monday, June 6, 2011, Potomac, MD—The land along Brickyard Road in Potomac, where we have been farming organically for 31 years, will be the topic on June 9 at a public “work session” led by Montgomery County, at the Potomac Community Center (1315 Falls Road) beginning at 7:30 pm. In a May 26 letter, County officials announced “the discussion will be limited to concerns regarding development … and operation and maintenance of facilities” for soccer fields to be constructed and operated  by a private athletic organization which will charge fees and schedule their use. The meeting “will be small group discussions on issues such as traffic/parking, operational, design, environment, and complementary amenities….”  
But others see the meeting as a chance for the County to make good on its promise to discuss alternatives for the property, such as the continuation of the organic farm and agricultural education. 
“As proposed by the Montgomery Countryside Alliance—with support from more than 15 other non- profits—a down county hub for agricultural education at this 20-acre site would provide a one-of-a- kind opportunity,” says Nick Maravell, operator of Nick’s Organic Farm. “We are already up and running. We can share this treasure with the nearly 1 million residents of our County at no cost to the taxpayer. We want to provide experiences for students and county residents to learn about local food and farming, and the soil and water that sustain us.” 
Local leaders have expressed concerns that the move to build soccer fields is sudden, cloaked in secrecy, and lacking the usual public discussion—with the announcement about the supposed limits on the discussion June 9 as another attempt to keep alternative visions from public debate. 
Peggy Dennis, president of the Montgomery County Civic Federation, says, “Looks like they're setting up the meeting with the outcome to be a forgone conclusion. Community opposition will not be taken into consideration.”  
Ginny Barnes, president of the West Montgomery County Citizens Association (WMCCA), adds, “This is NOT representative government in any way and I'm outraged. We need to put a bookmark in this proposal and start over.” 
Also reacting to the set-up, Paula Bienenfeld, education chair of the Montgomery County Civic Federation. “Using small group discussions is just an attempt at controlling the debate. The county has this down to a science obviously. But sunshine is the best antiseptic, so questions need to be asked.”
A 31-year-old organic farm along Brickyard Road is a unique asset to the County: 
  • It demonstrates specific farming practices that improve soil health and the quality of the water that flows into the Chesapeake Bay. 
  • It is a successful model of how urban agriculture contributes to the security of our local food supply and to the safety of knowing where and how our food was produced. 
  • It contributes to the local economy by selling its seed and feed to other local farms that sell their products to County residents, creating more economic activity and jobs. 
  • Being distant from conventional commodity farms, it produces GMO-free seed, as required by organic standards, without fear of contamination from wind and insect-borne pollen from neighboring farms.
  • Given its long history of continuous organic management, it has provided a unique location for on-farm research conducted in cooperation with the US Department of Agriculture and the University of Maryland.  
  • It provides “eco-system” services such as: improving soil organic matter which stores carbon in the ground reducing greenhouse gases; improving water quality by filtering the water through soils untreated with chemical fertilizers and pesticides; preserving biodiversity and purity in many hard-to-find heirloom food-grade corn and soybean seeds; preserving naturally managed habitat for wildlife.
The Brickyard Road School Site is owned by the Board of Education of Montgomery County. From March of 1980 to March 2011, it was leased to Nick’s Organic Farm, where Nick Maravell farmed it organically. On March 3 of this year, with less than three weeks before the end of the lease, the BOE said it would vote on March 8 (2.5 business days’ notice) to turn the lease over to the County. In turn, the County announced it would permit organic farming only through 2011 and then would enter into a public-private partnership with a private athletic organization to construct and operate soccer fields on the site. On April 19, the School Board signed a 10-year lease with the County, but it reserved the right during that period to reclaim the site if needed  for school purposes.  
Nick’s Organic Farm LLC (www.nicksorganicfarm.com) is a certified organic farm with operations in Potomac and Buckeystown, MD. Nick Maravell, owner of Nick’s Organic Farm, is a nationally recognized organic farmer who is often called upon as a speaker, is quoted in the national media, and is called to testify at federal and state levels. Maravell has farmed organically since 1979. He has been active at the national and state level in the development of organic legislation and standards, organic research priorities, and organic marketing issues. Late last year, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack appointed Maravell as one of four farmers to serve on the 15-member National Organic Standards Board. Additional information can also be found at www.savenicksorganicfarm.org.