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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Property battle ( No Farms No Food )

POTOMAC, Md. — Even with county legislation in the works, Montgomery County farmer Nick Maravell may not be able to keep his sublease on a 20-acre field he has been fighting for for over a year.
“This land has been carefully and organically managed for the last 32 years,” said Maravell, owner of Nick’s Organic Farm. “Farming always follows the ups and downs of the seasons, and this season we hope the county reverses this unpopular decision. We would like to pass on the knowledge and purity of our seed breeding for the security of future generations.”
Maravell has Certified Organic operations in Potomac and Buckeystown, Md. He produces row crops, grass-based livestock, vegetables, seed and animal feed.
In March 2011, Maravell learned that Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett had decided, without public input or notice, to lease the 20-acre school property on Brickyard Road that he farms to Montgomery Soccer, Inc. The company plans to develop it into the county’s 502nd and 503rd soccer fields.
In September 2011, Leggett wrote The Delmarva Farmer that he was “fully committed to dual use of the 20-acre site to the extent that it is feasible. Dual use could include organic farming with soccer fields, which we will certainly consider.”
In a public notice May 30, the county executive’s office officially announced its intention to sublease the Brickyard plot to MSI. The county must wait until April 13 to receive public objections before signing, making the contract final.
To negotiate with Leggett last year, supporters of Nick’s Organic Farm united to form the Brickyard Coalition and urged the Montgomery County School Board to consider allowing Maravell to use the land as an agricultural education hub instead of constructing more soccer fields.
Meanwhile, County Bill 11-12, sponsored by six of the nine members of the Montgomery County Council, was proposed to require council approval on the sale or lease of certain county properties. The bill has been through two sets of hearings and committee. If passed, it is unclear at this point if the measure would be retroactive to affect the Brickyard Road property. A public commentperiod is open until April 13. At that time, Leggett can sign the contract with MSI.
“I still have crops on the land,” said Maravell. “The bill may or not affect the contract with MSI, but there’s some tension between the county executive and the county council and that’s created some heightened awareness.”
Maravell said the council has taken an interest in land transaction. “There’s been very little land oversight,” said Maravell.
Maravell said his daughter, Sophia, submitted an alternative bid to the county but has not received a response. The Maravells have submitted a protest against the speed of the MSI contract negotiations.
“You have to stand back and ask yourself ‘Why was only one organization considered?’” said Nick Maravell.
“We are incredibly disappointed that the county is choosing to bulldoze this irreplaceable educational resource,” added Sophia Maravell, Nick’s daughter.
Maravell’s farm has become an educational center that connects “schoolchildren with local, sustainable food and agriculture, and the soil, water, and farms that sustain us,” said Sara Shor, campaign organizer for Save Nick’s Organic Farm. “We have already served over 250 students and we will continue to serve these students until we are made to leave.”
Shor said she has seen overwhelming support throughout Montgomery County to use the Brickyard land for educational purposes open to all of the public.
“Almost everyone who has spoken on this issue aside from the county executive has been in favor of using the farming for educational purposes. If this is what the public wants, why is the county moving forward with a different proposal?” Shor said. According to Montgomery county documents, the nine-year MSI lease would begin on Aug. 16 and expire in April 2021.
Shor said the campaign team is doing “everything that we can to challenge the county’s lease with Montgomery Soccer Inc.”

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