Threatened organic farm gathering support

Staff Reporter

POTOMAC, Md. — Nick Maravell, a nationally recognized organic farmer, has been invited to testify at federal and state levels about the development of organic legislation and standards.
But now, Maravell is speaking out about his own organic production. And people are listening.
Twenty acres of Montgomery County-owned land that Maravell rents have been eyed as suitable land for the county to convert to soccer fields, ending Maravell’s 30-year use of the property in January.
Since September, Maravell’s campaign to save his farm has been adopted by, an international social change platform.
Parsons said 25,000 people have joined the movement to save Maravell’s farm and are present at events to campaign for him.
“Nick is receiving support from the sustainable food community locally and internationally,” said Parsons.
The county has agreed to allow Maravell to continue his operation through the growing season. Maravell has been maintaining the land as if he will be using it next year. He hopes to plant in the spring, he said.
“I have a reputation built up over the years for producing certain types of seeds and I may no longer be able to produce those types. This will reduce one of my income sources derived by farming,” said Maravell.
Maravell has been farming since 1979, producing row crops, grass-based livestock, vegetables, seed, and animal feed.
Along with the 20-acres at the county-owned site along Brickyard Road, Maravell farms 160 acres in other locations.
“This land has been good to me and has taught me a lot,” said Maravell. “Losing it would be like losing a very close, long-standing, personal friend.”
The Montgomery County Board of Education and county executive Isiah Leggett are planning to construct soccer fields on the site along Brickyard Road in Potomac.
“I produce certified organic feedstock at the Brickyard location,” said Maravell. “It would be very difficult to maintain the purity of certain open pollinated crops if I were to try and relocate that operation to areas surrounded by other non-organic farms.”
The county is currently seeking input from the community on how to best complete the project.
So far, the open public comment period has shown that the county has considerable opposition to the project.
Of the 172 comments, 88 percent said they wanted the organic farm to continue; 8 percent said they had serious reservations about the plans to develop the soccer fields and listed extensive stipulations if the soccer facilities were to be developed; 1 percent registered concern that the public process had not been followed properly; 1 percent said they supported soccer fields and 2 percent were counted as unclear due to spam or incomplete technological errors, according Sara Shor, campaign organizer for Save Nick’s Organic Farm.
No decision has been or will be made in advance of that process, said county executive Leggett during an online community discussion.
Leggett said the Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Commission referenced the critical need for more multipurpose rectangular fields.
“Specifically, it calls for an additional 88 multi-purpose rectangular fields in the county by 2020. Potomac and Bethesda, in particular, have huge numbers of youth soccer players,” he said in the discussion.
Leggett said the plan indicates the Brickyard site is suitable for ball fields, if the sites are not being used for school purposes.
In September, Maravell told The Delmarva Farmer, “They might split it up and make half of it a soccer field, we’re not yet clear on the BOE’s vision.”
Leggett wrote in September to The Delmarva Farmer that he had met with Maravell and walked the land.
“I am 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,” Leggett wrote.
Montgomery County has committed over 93,000 acres to an agricultural reserve.
That acreage puts almost 40 percent of the county’s land area in ag preservation. 
Parsons said many supporters want Maravell’s rented land to become an educational center where kindergarten through college students could learn about sustainable farming.
“College professors are already expressing interest in bringing their classes to the field in the spring,” Parsons said.