Red Wiggler farm working with park planners on future of Ovid Hazen Wells regional park -- Gazette.Net


Summer started Saturday and the Red Wiggler Community Farm in Clarksburg will soon start distributing its crop of certified organic tomatoes, eggplant, sweet peppers, potatoes and Swiss chard.

Unlike some local farms now selling seasonal produce at roadside stands, the nonprofit Red Wiggler sells shares in each season’s harvest to subscribers as part of its community supported agriculture program.

The summer season is sold out, but there are spaces still available for the fall crop, said Executive Director and founder Woody Woodroof.

Red Wiggler also sells fresh vegetables to group homes for developmentally disabled people for a nominal fee and to the Manna Food Center of Gaithersburg, the county’s major food bank, at a discount.

The farm could sell at retail but this is a way for some of the fresh produce to reach low-income people, Woodroof said,

The farm is on 12 acres at the eastern end of the Ovid Hazen Wells regional park on Md. 27 in Clarksburg bordering Germantown.

Red Wiggler has a lease with Montgomery Parks through 2025 and “we’re hoping to extend the lease,” Woodroof said.

In the meantime, Montgomery Parks, which owns the Ovid Hazen Wells Park north of Skylark Road, is doing some planning of its own.

First on the list for the park planners is to relocate the carousel bequeathed by the Wells family from its temporary location in Wheaton.

Planners are also looking into how to best use the vacant Oliver Watkins House at Red Wiggler farm, one of two historic houses in the park.

Many residents have also said they would welcome a community garden at Ovid Hazen Wells.

“We wouldn’t run it, but we could provide programming,” said Woodroof about offering classes or workshops that are consistent with developing the garden.

“We could collaborate,” he said.

“It’s a very exciting time, and we’re about helping the park become more accessible to everyone,” Woodroof said.

About 40 percent of Red Wiggler vegetables go to nonprofits such as Community Support Services in Gaithersburg, the Jubilee Association of Maryland in Kensington, plus The Arc Montgomery County and the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes, both in Rockville.

“The agencies serve 100 group homes with more than 300 residents,” Woodroof said.

Although it doesn’t regularly run a farm stand, Red Wiggler does participate in events for the general public, such as the annual Montgomery County farm tour scheduled for July 26.

For five consecutive Thursdays beginning July 31, Red Wiggler will sell its produce starting at 9 a.m. at the interfaith chapel in the Leisure World retirement community in Silver Spring.

Red Wiggler also runs a job training program focused on farming skills for developmentally disabled people. It employs 16 people with disabilities who receive minimum wage or more for their part-time work while also learning life skills and teamwork.

The workers, or growers, also have a chance to interact with volunteers, including local high school students who volunteer to earn their service learning hours.

“They’ll have lunch or take a water break, and that’s how people develop friendships,” Woodroof said.

Red Wiggler also offers tours of the farm to private schools in the region, including Sandy Spring Friends School and the Bullis School in Potomac.

For the past two winters, Red Wiggler has worked with students from Seneca Valley High School on a pilot project to raise micro greens in the farm’s heated year-round greenhouse.

Typically sprinkled on soups or salads, micro-greens are immature versions of herbs, such as basil, and vegetables, such as spinach, cabbage and peas, that typically are high in vitamins with a range of colors and flavors.

Red Wiggler built its heated greenhouse and office-activities building “so we could go year-round,” Woodroof said.

But now the farm has now reached a point in its evolution where it needs to do some long-range planning.

“We want to look at how to better run our programs,” said Woodroof who plans to spend some time reassessing community needs while continuing to run the programs.

“Are we about vocations and getting jobs or maybe creating a horticultural therapy program, where people could use gardening to develop their fine-motor skills, vocabulary, work with a team or work independently,” he said.

Red Wiggler may sound like an odd name for a farm, but there’s a logic behind it, Woodroof said.

Red wigglers are underground worms that create fertile soil by eating decaying organic matter and excreting nutrients, while also digging tunnels that let in water.

“They’re the unsung heroes of the garden,” Woodroof said. “They create the conditions for plants to thrive.”

The farm, in turn, grows healthy food for people to eat, as well as a place that educates people about the environment and provides jobs.

“We [at the farm] create conditions for people to be successful,” Woodroof said.