New nonprofit formed to help preserve, create urban farms

The farm has always welcomed visitors eager to learn. Photo courtesy Koiner Farm.

Two local residents have formed a new nonprofit organization, the Charles Koiner Center for Urban Farming, both to help preserve a Silver Spring institution and to eventually create a network of similar farms.

Cofounders Kate Medina, director of education, and Hannah Sholder, director of land stewardship, joined with Lynn Koiner, Charlie’s daughter, to found the organization as a means of keeping the Koiners’ vision alive.

Charlie started his one-acre farm on the corner of Easley and Grove streets in 1983 and, with Lynn’s help, has farmed the land ever since. At the same time, they’ve always welcomed schoolchildren and others to visit and learn about farming.

“They’ve made incredible sacrifices to keep their farm, to keep this one acre as a working farm,” Medina said. “We’re really just continuing in their footsteps.

“We’re expanding the education program, getting more schools out there [and] really trying to create incredible, immersive, hands-on, memorable experiences for these children,” she continued, noting that they’re working with East Silver Spring Elementary and Silver Spring International Middle schools to encourage students to visit the farm.

“I’m hoping that they come multiple times throughout the year,” Medina said, “so that you’re seeing the farm as really a living, changing place.

“This is Lynn and Charlie’s vision, and we’re just trying to fulfill their vision,” she added.

Sholder has been a volunteer farmhand for the Koiners since August 2016, after the property caught her attention as she went on her runs through the neighborhood.

One day, she saw Charlie outside, went up, introduced herself and learned about the farm.

“I just said, ‘Hey, can I come volunteer for you?’ and it kind of transformed things for me,” Sholder said.

She has a background in land preservation, including urban farms, “so my mind was also churning in that respect,” Sholder said. “This has to be preserved.

“Since the beginning, [Lynn] expressed to me her vision, which is to have this be an urban farm in perpetuity,” Sholder continued.

In addition to helping to manage the property and coordinating interns, Sholder is assisting with a long-term preservation plan.

“The first stage for us for that right now is seeking out environmental easements with the Maryland Environmental Trust,” Sholder said. “The easement basically prevents any other use [rather] than agriculture in perpetuity, regardless who is the owner.”

At one point, the farm will be put into a trust to provide an extra layer of protection and ensure the educational aspect of the farm continues to be a part of the operation.

The County Council gave the farm’s chances for longevity a boost when it unanimously passed a bill last March that would grant a tax credit to certain properties that qualify as urban farms, such as the Koiner property, which had been taxed as a single-family home.

The bill applies to properties ranging in size from one-half acre to less than three acres that are also located in or within 1,000 feet of a Metro Station Policy Area. The property must also be used for at least two of three urban agricultural purposes, defined as:

  • Cultivation of fruits, vegetables, flowers and ornamental plants
  • Limited keeping and raising of fowl or bees, and
  • Practice of aquaculture.

In addition, the property must sell at least $5,000 worth of goods annually; the Koiners have sold at the Silver Spring Farmers’ Market for a number of seasons.

The tax credit, which is equal to 80 percent of the property tax that would otherwise be due, is good for five years, at which time the property owner can reapply for the credit.

One visible change on the property will be a year-round farm stand for visitors to purchase fresh farm products, in addition to their continued presence at the farmers’ market.

Visitors have always always able to buy onsite, Medina said, but unless someone was out on the property, people often didn’t know what do to in order to make a purchase.

“The farm stand is meant to help people who want to stop by and say if no one’s here, here’s what you do,” Medina said.

In addition to six field trips to the farm planned for this spring, the center will have a community volunteer day for the East Silver Spring neighborhood on April 22, and will be partnering with Manna Food Center’s mobile pantry in June for farm-related activities.

Those interested in volunteering, arranging for a field trip or other event can email Medina or call 240.418.7170.

A future farmer? Photo courtesy Koiner Farm.

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