Let’s talk urban farming. Beyond the beautification of vacant lots, farming in this environment provides a unique subset of challenges that are often overlooked. Land and water access, and soil health can all be variable. For those that have access to land, pressure from developers and outdated zoning laws can make it difficult for folks to feel settled on the land on which they are farming. However, one farm in Silver Spring is hoping to change the landscape for urban farmers in Maryland.
Koiner Farm is quite the hidden gem – it’s the only working farm in downtown Silver Spring and was established over 35 years ago by Mr. Charles Koiner, now 97. Charlie started out by owning just a few plots in 1979, but saved up and bought the vacant adjacent plots when he could. The farm is currently 1 acre, small by many standards but big on community impact.
Despite its size, the farm grows a wide variety of fruits and vegetables including peaches, pears, persimmons, and grapes, just to name a few. Along with their exhaustive list of produce, they also host educational programs for the local community. The farm is run by Mr. Koiner, along with the support of his daughter, Lynn, and a newly formed nonprofit, The Charles Koiner Center for Urban Farming (CKC Farming).
Koiner Farm volunteers, Kate Medina and Hannah Sholder, decided to start CKC Farming as a way to amplify and improve the educational work being offered at the farm. CKC Farming hosts school field trips, offers trainings, lectures and neighborhood picnics, and manages the volunteers and interns who work side-by-side with Charlie. The goal is to provide hands-on farming experiences for those living in urban neighborhoods and inspire scalable agricultural practices that can be easily replicated.
Along with a focus on education, CKC Farming also hopes to provide a sustainable land preservation model for other urban farms in the area. This effort can already be felt in the passage of the Montgomery County Urban Agricultural Property Tax Credit (Bill 31-16), which was specifically designed to protect Koiner Farm, but applies to all urban farmers in the county. Before this designation, Charlie was paying $20,000 in property tax due to increased development in the area. Just this past May, he received his tax credit allowing him to continue to hold onto his little farm in the city. “You know, at my age, I’m just happy to get out here and have something to do everyday,” said Charlie in a WUSA9 News interview.
While protecting and maintaining Koiner Farm continues to be CKC Farming’s primary focus, the young nonprofit envisions a network of urban farms bound by a commitment to inspiring the next generation of sustainable food innovators.
Kate Medina, CKC Founder and former Biology professor feels that “For those of us living in the city, I know that I for one can start to feel disconnected from nature, like my actions don’t matter. Farms are the perfect reminder of how closely intertwined natural systems are to human systems. If nothing else, we hope that CKC farms give people an opportunity to re-connect.”