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Votes

Stay to Grow (Restrictions Apply)

Brickyard farm allowed to operate through growing season. Next step: court in September.

— Organic farmer Nick Maravell is farming along Brickyard Road on an expired lease.

Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr made parameters clear in a letter he sent to Maravell on Aug. 17.

Superintendent’s Words

“Dear Mr. Maravell:

“I am writing to inform you that possession of the Brickyard Road property has reverted to the Montgomery County Board of Education as the result of the Circuit Court’s ruling on Aug. 14, 2012, which stayed the effect of the Board’s lease to the Montgomery County government. Even if the judge had not granted the stay, the license to operate given to Nick’s Organic Farm, LLC by the county expired on Aug. 15, 2012. Therefore, Nick’s Organic Farm, LLC, has no right to occupy or use the Brickyard Road property.

“Although Nick’s Organic Farm has no right to use or occupy the property, and although the Board is under no legal obligation of any kind to permit Nick’s Organic Farm to be on the property, the Board, subject to reservation of its rights below, will permit you to enter the property solely for the limited purpose of caring for or harvesting existing crops. You or any other employee of Nick’s Organic Farm may not enter the property at any time for any other purpose, and you may not allow visitors to enter the property, without the prior express written consent of the Montgomery County Board of Education. Further, the Board of Education will assume no liability for or to any person, whether an employee of Nick’s Organic Farm or otherwise, who is on the property. Once existing crops are harvested, neither you nor Nick’s Organic Farm will have any right to enter the property for any reason.

“The Board of Education will further address the status of the property in the near future and reserves the right at any time to revoke permission to enter the property for any purpose or to impose further conditions on further use of this property by Nick’s Organic Farm.”

Joshua P. Starr. Ed.D. Superintendent of Schools Aug. 17, 2012

“Possession of the Brickyard Road property has reverted to the Montgomery County Board of Education as the result of the Circuit Court’s ruling on Aug. 14, 2012, which stayed the effect of the Board’s lease to the Montgomery County government,” Starr wrote. “Although Nick’s Organic Farm has no right to use or occupy the property, and although the Board is under no legal obligation of any kind to permit Nick’s Organic Farm to be on the property, the Board … will permit you to enter the property solely for the limited purpose of carrying for or harvesting existing crops.”

The letter suggests that Maravell must stop the Brickyard Educational Farm his daughter operates on the land.

“You or any other employee of Nick’s Organic Farm may not enter the property at any time for any other purpose, and you may not allow visitors to enter the property, without the prior express written consent of the Montgomery County Board of Education,” wrote Starr.

SEVEN SPEAKERS testified in support of the Brickyard Educational Farm during open comment period last Thursday, Aug. 23 during the regularly scheduled Montgomery County School Board meeting in Rockville.

“Montgomery County could be a leader” in environmental education, nutrition, and the connection between farms with the food we eat, said Naomi Bloch of Potomac. “Keep Montgomery County as one of the top educational systems in the country.”

Dolores Milmoe, of the Audubon Naturalist Society, called it ironic to celebrate the county’s new farmers pilot program to lease land to new farmers in the Agricultural Reserve earlier this month while the county prepares to give up the 20 organic acres on Brickyard Road.

“One of the missions is to protect agricultural land,” said Milmoe. She called the Brickyard Road site a “real gift” to Montgomery County that can be better used for numerous purposes, including education of students.

Ben Joseph, a second year college student, interned on the farm this summer. “The biggest joy,” he said, was to share the enthusiasm the children had for tending to the beets, peppers, fennel and tomatoes. He would hear children say, “I want to be a farmer when I grow up.”

The School Board did not discuss the issue, although Patricia O’Neill questioned whether some farm activities were in violation for the zoning in Potomac. “I would like to get clarification on that issue,” she said.

MARAVELL’S ATTORNEY James L. Parsons successfully asked the Circuit Court of Montgomery County to permit Maravell to stay on the land while legal challenges are pending.

“All we are asking is for the decision to be stayed. Legal merits are to be decided another day,” said Parsons.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture has certified the farm as organic, which it has been since 1986.

“It is appropriate to stay the decision until I hear arguments for judicial review,” Judge Robert A. Greenberg said, during the Aug. 14 hearing in Circuit Court. “I don’t find the issues raised by the petitioner to be frivolous.”

“I’m concerned that permitting the lease to proceed at this point when there is a possibility that it can be voided in the future, that’s not a prudent act,” Greenberg said. “It would be, in my opinion, impossible to unscramble that egg.”

Maravell has leased the property from Montgomery County Public Schools for more than 30 years, operating an organic farm.

The Brickyard Coalition and West Montgomery County Citizens Association filed a Freedom of Information lawsuit in Montgomery County Circuit Court last November.

In March 2011, neighbors and civic organizations in Potomac learned that County Executive Leggett had already decided to take control of the 20-acre school property on Brickyard Road to turn it over to a private organization for development into soccer fields.

The civic organizations say that the county violated the public’s right to have access to information about the government’s affairs concerning the conversion of Brickyard Road farm site into soccer fields.

Less than an hour after Greenberg issued a stay Tuesday, Aug. 14, Judge Ronald B. Rubin admonished the county in a different courtroom for failing to comply with the court-ordered Freedom of Information Request.

Rubin put the county on a specific timetable to execute the freedom of information request. “My goal is to get it done, my goal is to get the county to get it done,” he said.

Court hearings on both cases are scheduled during the next month.

EFFORTS TO SAVE the farm also got a boost from Gov. Martin O’Malley, who wrote County Executive Leggett and Board of Education President Shirley Brandman on Sunday Aug. 12.

“I believe we are about to make a big mistake,” O’Malley wrote.

“On policy grounds, there are significant and compelling reasons to preserve this farm for the benefit of the children of Montgomery County,” O’Malley wrote.

In his letter, O’Malley suggested the mission of the newly established Brickyard Road Educational Farm shows promise for what the farm could mean for students.

“Rather than moving our State backwards through this destructive policy choice, Montgomery County can and should be a leader,” said O’Malley. “The vital connection between our farms, the food we eat, and our children’s future has never been more important than it is right now.”