Founders of the Brickyard Educational Farm plan to propose a three-year, renewable lease for the 20-acre Potomac land after County Executive Isaiah Leggett turned the contested site back over to the county’s school board.
Just last week, Leggett (D) abandoned efforts to convert the Brickyard Road site into soccer fields — a move that has led to the county surrendering its lease with Montgomery County Public Schools.
Leggett said Monday that he backed out of the county’s plans at the urging of state lawmakers.
Seven of Montgomery County’s eight state senators and 28 of 32 members of the House of Delegates signed a letter addressed to Superintendent Joshua P. Starr and Board of Education President Christopher S. Barclay (Dist. 4) of Takoma Park and copied to Leggett, urging reconsideration of their plans for the land.
“The proposed Brickyard Road Educational Farm presents an invaluable and unique opportunity to educate the next generation about agriculture and sustainability,” the delegates wrote.
Having been back and forth on the project for a long time, Leggett said he thought it had gone beyond its original vision and that it was time to regroup and look seriously at getting out of the lease.
The Brickyard site has been the subject of a tug-of-war between the Maravell family, the county and the Montgomery County Board of Education. The Maravells have leased the land for 30 years, using part of it as a commercial organic farm and another smaller portion for an agricultural education program.
Proponents of the farm have taken the others to court to block the soccer program from using the land.
In a closed-door session the evening of Feb. 19, school board members met with their attorney and then voted unanimously in open session to cancel the county’s lease.
The board’s vote puts the land back in the lap of the school board, which has labeled the property as a “future school site,” schools spokesman Dana Tofig said.
Montgomery Soccer Inc.’s executive director said he is “disgusted” by what he called a “smear campaign” that was successful in ousting his organization from leasing Montgomery County school board-owned land on Brickyard Road for soccer fields.
MSI would have operated soccer fields on the site.
“The kids lost. I am disgusted at this point. We talk about hating political campaigns that use smear tactics. ... All they do are disinform, but people do it because it works. That is what happened here,” said Doug Schuessler, MSI’s executive director.
Schuessler said Feb. 20 that MSI spent nearly $200,000 on engineering and planning costs for the Potomac property and signed the lease with the county last spring after responding to the county’s request for proposals for the land.
“This was a complete surprise,” Schuessler said of the decision by the county to turn the property back over to the school board, adding he learned of the county’s decision via a story on The Gazette website. County spokesman Patrick Lacefield originally said county officials alerted MSI of the decision the night of Feb. 19, but later said it was not until the morning of Feb. 20.
“The rug has been pulled out from underneath what would have been a great project for children,” Schuessler said.
The site has been marked for a middle school, but plans to build a new school are not included in the school system’s six-year capital improvement program list.
However, according to Lacefield, the MSI proposal to build soccer fields on the land left room for the educational farm and heirloom seed operation.
Sophia Maravell, director of the farm, said Feb. 20 the compromise would not have worked. She said chemicals used to spray the sod fields would have negated the farm’s organic certification.
“There would not have been enough of a buffer space and drainage to grow safe, especially organic, foods,” she said.
It also would have diminished the amount of farm that could be used for the educational program on the site, she said.
Nick Maravell, owner of the organic farm on the site, also owns a 165-acre certified organic farm in Frederick County, where he grows corn and soybeans and raises chickens, turkeys and grass-fed beef, Sophia Maravell said.
The Brickyard Educational Farm is a pilot project of a nonprofit called Chesapeake Institute for Local and Sustainable Food and Agriculture, launched in January 2012. The Brickyard website outlines plans for the Potomac property that include submitting a three-year lease proposal to the school board that incorporates a farm incubator program, seed saving and farm-to-school projects. Startup costs range from $150,000 to $350,000, according to the website.
The proposal also suggests in the second year of operations, the CLISFA will request funding to cover salary costs at the farm for positions such as farm-to-cafeteria coordinator, farm incubator coordinator and fundraiser.
As of Tuesday morning, the Montgomery County Board of Education had not received a new proposal from Brickyard Educational Farm, said Suzann M. King, a staff assistant in the board office.
Sophia Maravell said in an email to The Gazette on Tuesday that she requested a meeting with Starr and Barclay to present the educational farm’s vision for the land, but was turned down because of the pending lawsuits on the land.
“Once the public proposal process is reopened we look forward to meeting with both the school board and superintendent,” she wrote in an email.
Staff Writer Kate S. Alexander contributed to this report.