The Charles Koiner Conservancy for Urban Farming this week posted a video in tribute to Koiner Farm founder Charles Koiner, honoring him on what would have been his 100th birthday.
In a tribute posted last year from CKC Farming’s Kate Medina & Hannah Sholder, they wrote that Charlie passed away in the comfort of his home on the evening of Friday, Jan. 18, 2019, at the age of 98. He is survived by his daughter, Lynn Koiner, his farmhands, Evelyn Jemionek and Hannah Sholder, his cat, Hank, and his beautiful farm that will be protected and cared for by The Charles Koiner Center for Urban Farming.
CKC Farming is a 501(c)(3) land trust, created in honor of Charlie to preserve his farm, and others like it, so that generations to come can enjoy the many benefits that urban farms bring to a community.
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Charlie was born in 1920, in the kitchen of his family’s home on their 33-acre fruit and vegetable farm. As a child, he helped work the farm and recalls hunting rabbit and squirrel for dinner…” pot pie,” he says, “now that was good eatin.’”
Charlie attended school at the now historic Montrose Schoolhouse and remembers horse and buggy traveling along Rockville Pike. He purchased his first car in 1940 for $400 using money he earned as a caddy at a nearby nine-hole golf course (now the site of White Flint).
“Throughout his life, Charlie managed to stay true to his farming roots,” Kate Medina & Hannah Sholder wrote in their tribute last year. “I suppose that’s why he was so disheartened when his family sold their farm in the ’50s to make way for the Mid-Pike Plaza shopping center (now the site of Pike & Rose).”
Charlie spent his career as the farm manager at Timberlawn Farm. The estate was owned by George Calvert Bowie and Hattie Corby Bowie. In an interview with Bethesda Magazine from 2010, Charlie recalled his time managing Timberlawn Farm:
“When I married Helen, we moved from my parents’ farm into a house on the Bowie estate. They rented the main house to the Shrivers from 1961 to 1979. When [Sargent Shriver] was running for Vice President [in 1972], the Secret Service had a trailer out there. Before and after JFK was killed [in 1963], John-John and Caroline [Kennedy] would come out to visit their cousins, ride horses, swim in the pool. I’d take the tractor and sleigh and drive them around in the snow. John-John didn’t want to be in the sleigh, he would climb up on the tractor with me.”
In 1979, Charlie retired from Timberlawn and moved to downtown Silver Spring. In the years that followed, Charlie planted beautiful vegetable gardens and took notice of the vacant adjacent plots. He planned to buy up these plots when he could—and that’s exactly what he did.
In 1983, Charlie formed Koiner Farm, LLC, a one-acre urban farm comprised of 5 adjacent residential plots. Charlie farmed this land for 35 years and paid residential property taxes on all five plots.
As the city of Silver Spring grew, so too did Charlie’s property taxes. By 2015, Charlie was paying over $20,000 a year in property taxes, but the farm was only bringing in about $5,000. Once again, it looked as though Charlie was going to lose the farm.
However, by 2015, the farming industry was changing—an urban farming movement was sweeping across the country and the desire for local food had never been greater. Charlie’s daughter, neighbors, friends and elected officials came together and in March 2017, the Montgomery County Council unanimously passed the Urban Agriculture Tax Credit Bill. The bill was sponsored by Councilmember Tom Hucker, who remains an ardent supporter of Koiner Farm and others who wish to follow in Charlie’s path.
While the tax credit allowed the Koiners to hold onto their property, it did not ensure the long-term protection of the farm. This was of particular concern to Charlie’s daughter, Lynn, who on several occasions had expressed how important it was to her that her father’s farm never be paved over or built upon.
With the blessing of Charlie and the wishes of Lynn, Kate Medina (a Koiner Farm customer and local teacher) and Hannah Sholder (a Koiner Farm volunteer and independent consultant) founded CKC Farming, a nonprofit land trust with a mission to inspire the next generation of sustainable food innovators through farm-based, hands-on education.
Charlie and the farm were the subjects of the 2010 documentary ‘Corner Plot’ from Docs In Progress alums Ian Cook and Andre Dahlman, which was shown at the 2010 AFI/Discovery Silverdocs festival (now AFIDOCS). Over 100 films were submitted, but ‘Corner Plot’ was the only film to feature Silver Spring.
Local nonprofit Silver Spring Cares hosts school field trips, community events, and volunteer opportunities at the farm. “We believe in the power of connection. Whether you are looking to donate items, donate funds, or donate time, Silver Spring Cares is the destination for information on community needs and opportunities for service. By engaging these diverse needs and resources of our residents, we can create a community in which all may thrive.”
CKC Farming worked with the Maryland Environmental Trust last year to co-hold an easement that would protect Koiner Farm indefinitely for the purpose of agriculture and education. This was a first-in-kind for both CKC and MET, given that agricultural easements have traditionally been reserved for properties of at least five acres.
More recently, the farm announced that they will be adding equipment this fall that will allow it to extend the growing season for certain crops.
“May we all be so lucky as to find our passion in life and stay true to it for nearly a century,” wrote Kate Medina & Hannah Sholder last year. “In loving memory of Charles Koiner.”
Photo courtesy Kate Medina