Save the Soil or Plow Ahead?

Save the Soil or Plow Ahead?

Pivotal year ahead in Potomac.

The new sign in front of the Brickyard Road farm site.

The new sign in front of the Brickyard Road farm site. Photo by Mary Kimm.

Days before the county was scheduled to take possession of 20 acres of farmland on Brickyard Road to develop the into soccer fields, Gov. Martin O’Malley got involved.

“I believe we are about to make a big mistake in destroying acres of a productive farmland and its soils which could be a priceless asset to the education, health and well-being of generations of Montgomery students,” O’Malley wrote to Montgomery County Board of Education President Shirley Brandman and County Executive Isiah Leggett on Aug. 12, 2012.

“I understand that these issues are the subject of litigation, and it is not my intent to express any view on the legal merits of the case. However, on policy grounds, there are significant and compelling reasons to preserve this farm for the benefit of the children of Montgomery County,” he wrote.

“Brickyard Educational Farm aims to teach students about local and sustainable food and agriculture, and to show them how the food they eat is grown,” he wrote. “The initiatives offered ... directly align with our State’s priorities, including our Agricultural Literacy Program and our Farm to School Program. Furthermore, the farm helps the county meet the requirements of its ‘No Child Left Inside’ mandate.”

“As a nation, we are doing an awful job at nutrition in our schools. Sadly, in Maryland, we are not doing much better. Rather than moving our State backwards through this destructive policy choice, Montgomery County can and should be a leader. 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.”

A MAJORITY of the Montgomery County Council also got involved after nearly two years of controversy concerning the 20-acre future school site on Brickyard Road.

“The way this matter has unfolded has been ugly and costly to everyone involved,” five councilmembers wrote in a letter to Brandman and Leggett. “We do not think this result is necessary or inevitable.”

George Leventhal (D-at large) wrote a letter of his own. “This turmoil has not only tainted our constituents’ opinion of representative government but it has also completely shut down communication,” he said.

The Montgomery County Circuit Courts issued a stay and will hear further arguments on Feb. 8 about the school board’s lease of the land to the County for development into soccer fields.

The stay in the Montgomery County Circuit Court, councilmembers said, offers “a time-out” in order “to consider fresh approaches and a transparent process to meeting each of the legitimate needs of our community that has been raised by this divisive debate.”

But County Executive Isiah Leggett intended to fill a need for soccer fields when he asked the school system to give land on Brickyard Road to the county so it could lease the 20 acres to MSI for developing soccer fields.

Some county officials suggest that the Brickyard Educational Farm is simply 11th-hour politics, a public relations campaign to deflect attention away from lease that was given by the school board to a private farmer for more than 30 years. Nick Maravell, the private farmer, produces heirloom, GMO-free corn and soybean seed and his daughter Sophia Maravell runs the Brickyard Educational Farm on the site to teach local school children.

In March 2011, Maravell, neighbors and civic organizations in Potomac learned that Leggett had already decided to take control of the property to turn it over for development into soccer fields. The Board of Education voted with only a few days notice to lease the property to the county for that purpose.

Local food advocates, neighbors and civic associations have expressed outrage that there was no public process before the decision. They have asked begin a transparent process with public input and discussion.