ROCKVILLE, Md. — More than 80 Montgomery County citizens joined in a rally on May 30 at the Rockville District Courthouse to save Nick Maravell’s farm.
Unless Maravell’s pending legal actions succeed, the 32-year-old farm will be turned into parking lots and Montgomery Soccer Inc. soccer fields after Aug. 15.
“We question the very legitimacy of the county’s lease,” said Maravell. “Until the legal issues are resolved, and in light of the overwhelming support we have received from residents across the county and nation, we will continue to farm and to advance the Brickyard Educational Farm.
“As long as we have active support, we see no reason to stop doing what we are doing.”
Maravell, who has created an educational center on the site with his daughter, Sophia, leases the farm from the Montgomery County School Board. Sophia Maravell said she wants to keep the land as a learning tool because the school board owns it and “it’s the most appropriate use of the land.”
“We want to use this special piece of land as a Montgomery County farm-to-school hub for local children to learn about sustainable food and farming,” said Sophia Maravell, who is the educational director and second-generation farmer at Brickyard Educational Farm. She has been farming the land for three decades and lives in the house that backs up to the tract. She said the new educational center has served 1,000 students since February.
“We hope that many Montgomery County schoolchildren will have the opportunity to visit Nick’s Organic Farm to learn about the important link between local farms and food for our tables,” said Dolores Milmoe of the Audubon Naturalist Society’s Green Kids’ project. “That opportunity will be lost, and valuable farmland will be forever destroyed, if soccer fields are constructed on the site.”
In March 2011, without any open public debate, the Board of Education turned the lease over to Montgomery County amid plans for Montgomery Soccer Inc. to construct and operate soccer fields. Maravell was able to secure a license with the county to continue to farm the land until August 15, 2012.
Maravell has challenged the decision and filed a case with the Montgomery County Circuit Court, alleging that the school board violated the Open Meetings Act. The suit sought to void the lease from the Board of Education to the county for the land, but it has now been dropped.
To date, Nick’s Organic Farm has won three legal victories in the effort to save the farmland. On Dec. 8, Judge Richard E. Jordan denied the School Board’s motion for a summary judgment against Nick’s Organic Farm, which would have allowed the School Board to avoid trial. Second, the judge partially denied the School Board’s motion to quash subpoenas for the seven school board members to be witnesses at the planned trial on Dec. 15. In a separate matter with the State Board of Education on Dec. 6, the County School Board also lost its administrative motion to restrict the information the State School Board would be able to consider in deciding whether the local board violated state education law.
Montgomery Soccer Inc., parent Dena Leibman said she felt manipulated by MSI’s acquisition of the farm. “I’m an MSI soccer mom, whose kids have loved playing on MSI teams since kindergarten. Soccer is a huge part of our lives, and occupies my family’s weekends year round.”
Leibman explained that MSI had sent out an email to its substantial listserv of parents, laying out its plans to build up to three new fields on a place called the Brickyard site. She said the email did not specifically mention that those fields would be built on Maravell’s 32-year old organic farm, nor what that would mean to Maravell’s farming operation and “our county’s rich farming heritage,” she said.
Leibman said parents were asked to write letters and were upset when they learned that they had unknowingly taken sides in a complex land-use issue without having the full story.
“We need to fix the fields that are already here,” said Camille Torfs-Leibman, 14-year-old MSI soccer player and daughter of Leibman. “We rather play on good quality fields than ruin a priceless jewel.”
Eleven-year-old Antonia Torfs-Leibman, also an MSI soccer player, suggested MSI use the acquisition money to redo the fields closer to the schools.
“They’re only doing two or three (on the Brickyard site),” she said. “It’s not really worth it.”
“They should give up the quest for Nick’s farm,” said Leibman. “Let’s leave Nick’s farm alone.”
“The County prides itself on being a supporter of agriculture, but when it comes to precious land like this, officials need to hold true to those values and support the farm,” said Caroline Taylor, director of the Montgomery Countryside Alliance.
Taylor led the group in a chant of “We will be heard — no farms, no food.”
Other speakers included Meredith Begin, regional organizer of Food & Water Watch,
Dea Keen, farm manager of the Brickyard Educational Farm, farmer Michael Tabor and students from Montgomery County Public Schools.
On March 21, a group of Montgomery County citizens filed a Maryland Public Information Complaint in Circuit Court to compel the production of records “willfully and wrongfully withheld” in regard to the Plaintiffs’ MPIA request for documents submitted in regard to the Brickyard Road lease.
According to a press release issued by the group, known as the Brickyard Coalition, affidavits have been filed in Circuit Court stating the county is unable to find a large number of records related to the Brickyard lease. According to these affidavits, no county records — including e-mails, documents and calendars — can be found for Ike Leggett, Tim Firestine, Jennifer Hughes, David Dise and Cindi Brenneman in regard to key matters related to the Brickyard lease.
“The struggle is far from over,” Maravell said.