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‘No Child Left Inside’

2nd generation farmer seeks to continue educational agriculture on Nick’s Organic Farm.

The movement for “No Child Left Inside” encompasses both environmental education and efforts to combat childhood obesity.

But in Montgomery County, the school system is giving up a rare 20-acre organic farm in the heart of suburbia so the county can turn the land over to a private soccer developer.

Proposals to build soccer fields on the 20-acre farm were due on March 1.

Local farm advocates from around the region have been engaged in the effort to save Nick’s Organic Farm. But Sophia Maravell, a second-generation farmer, has an additional reason to try to save the farm. It’s where she grew up.

“I had the chance to grow up on this farm and have a deep connection with this land,” Sophia Maravell said.

“We have a viable plan to use this school land to teach kids about food, farming, water, soil and the environment,” she said.

Sophia Maravell and Dea Keen submitted an unsolicited proposal on Thursday, March 1 to offer an alternative plan for the land, which has been farmed by her father, Nick Maravell, for 31 years. He has tended the 20 acres, growing organic, heirloom corn and soybean seed that is free from genetically modified organisms. Nick Maravell is a national expert on organic farming, appointed by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to the National Organic Standards Board.

Sophia Maravell and Keen launched Brickyard Educational Farm, an agricultural education program, on the Brickyard farm.

“Let’s use Montgomery County Board of Education land for the education of Montgomery County students,” Maravell said.

Last week, elementary school students from Bullis attended the first outdoor class on the farm. Maravell and Keen have developed curriculum for all grade levels in elementary school as well as high school classes in Earth Science, Environmental Science and Chemistry.

Currently, Nick’s Organic Farm has a license with Montgomery County to continue working the land through August 2012, when the county might begin its efforts to turn the farm into soccer fields and parking.

Meanwhile, many people hope that the county will instead embrace the resources of the farm.

“I think Montgomery County is resting on its laurels,” said Naomi Bloch. The school system has the opportunity to do something heroic or to fall well behind the bell curve for environmental literacy, she said.

“There is enormous possibility of what this land can be for the school system,” said Bloch.

A YEAR AGO this week, in March 2011, Nick Maravell and local residents heard of the county’s plans to have a private soccer organization build soccer fields on the farmland just a few days before the Board of Education voted to turn the land over to the county. The county had been in negotiations with school board and a soccer organization for two years, documents show.

Local citizens groups and homeowners were outrages by not being including in plans for the site.

"The fact is there was no transparent process and all we have been asking all along is that we back up and rewind the tape and start over with a process that includes the community," said Ginny Barnes of West Montgomery County Citizens Association at a meeting in January. "The real issue is a transparent process that we were promised when Mr. Leggett ran for office."