MCA staff always enjoy attending the Future Harvest CASA (Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture) annual conference. This year’s keynote, a conversation about the most recent Farm Bill and government support for sustainable ag, was broadcast on WEAA. Be sure to listen for Frederick County farmer Will Morrow of Whitmore Farm, one of the panelists.
4/12/ Update: Despite the tireless efforts of Montgomery County and 20 stakeholder groups both HB 722 and emergency SB 1100 failed to pass. Further update will be posted shortly.
The lack of understanding of the public policy that created the nationally recognized 106,000 acre Ag Reserve in Annapolis, including several MC Delegates, was quite astonishing. Delegate Kathy Dumais, and her staff, did not even acknowledge that there is a public policy for the preservation of agriculture in Montgomery County.
Homeowners in one covenanted subdivision (constructed after the creation of the Reserve), who seem keen on living in the Ag Reserve but find that farming itself conflicts with their way of life and perception of what maintains their property values, cried foul – loudly. In Annapolis, they repeatedly misrepresented the issues and facts central to the serious problems created by allowing homeowners’ covenants to trump master plans, public policy and zoning.
This issue will be addressed in the fullness of time, as we press our General Assembly to embrace and support the Reserve and the public policy that guides it.
Fact and Law are helping stakeholders move this important legislation, sponsored by Senators Garagiola and Montgomery, forward. The MC Senate Delegation, led by Chair Senator Jamie Raskin, voted unanimously in favor 8-0 to move the bill forward with important amendments that would ensure that the over 1300 acres encumbered with ag conflicting covenants would be covered. Testimony before the Senate made clear that at the heart of this debate is clear, demonstrable public policy: The Preservation of Agriculture in the County’s Ag Reserve. Reserve Architect Royce Hanson offered a clear and compelling basis for passage of the legislation. Also it is important to note that this legislation is not plowing new ground: The State has previously limited the scope of homeowner covenants that clash with important public policy (renewable energy) and as recently as 2008.
What can you do before the bill, with amendments making it retroactive, is back before the MC House delegation this Friday? Call your Delegate and ask them to support the Senate version. This is about the ability to farm on at least 1300 acres of Ag Reserve land. A HB 722 myth.fact sheet should help you to understand some of the misconceptions that have entered into the issue.
Update 2/27 - Good news! A compromise amendment is making its way through channels and has thus far been favorably received. This compromise will ensure that the County would have standing, or the ability to participate, in any legal challenge to covenants that conflict with farming in the Reserve. Many thanks to the folks that have written in support of the bill and our farmers. The list of organizations that support the legislation is growing and includes:
Audubon Naturalist Society
1000 Friends of Maryland
League of Women Voters
Montgomery County Civic Federation
1000 Friends of Maryland
Montgomery Countryside Alliance
Montgomery Victory Gardens
Maryland Horse Council
Montgomery Farm Bureau
Montgomery County Ag Advisory Committee
Sugarloaf Citizens’ Association
Izaak Walton League
Montgomery Soil Conservation District
Mixed Greens Inc.
Montgomery County Park and Planning
Montgomery County Council
With each passing week more is learned about how widespread this problem is. Last week the MC Planning Board voiced concern about these restrictions, noting that they want to make an affirmative statement that they support the farmers and agricultural activity as the primary focus of the Reserve. The Board continues to support the legislation with the accepted amendment that excludes conservation easements.
The farmer that was willing to come forward and put himself and his family in the spotlight, Keith Ohlinger, made numerous and varied efforts to address his situation (which included a threat of lawsuit, complaints filed with County agencies about his current farming activities (which were not cited as violations), complaints about a meadow planted on his acreage to attract pollinators and threats to utilize other provisions of the covenants including prohibition against any commercial activity). The farmer sought answers as to how to address the situation, at each turn being told that he should pursue “legislative solution.” It was quite difficult to address this issue within the community once the formal letter of intent to sue was received The letter claimed the right to sue the farmer under provisions of covenants that were crafted by the developer days in advance of the final enactment of the Ag Reserve zone. What remains unknown, and is most troubling, is how many farmers have or will have abandoned their search for homes and farmland in the Reserve when they encounter these ag busting covenants. Thus, we, and a growing list of partners, are seeking passage of this important legislation to help Farmer Keith and others that face similar legal challenge to their ability to farm in MC’s Ag Reserve.
Your emails and calls are very important, see below for contact list!
Please oppose a proposed amendment from Delegate Barclay that calls for this legislation to apply only to covenants created after July 1, 2012, effectively allowing existing farming restrictive covenants to remain in force. MCA has met and talked with residents of the clustered subdivision in Laytonsville where the farmer profiled in our video lives. Our goal was to create a better climate for communication between neighbors in that community in order to ease concerns regarding the legislation and its purpose. We also wanted to see if there was a way to help folks mediate their issues rather than resort to litigation. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, a small group of neighbors in the Laytonsville development continue to assert that front yard farming (and fencing) will conflict with the vistas of rolling hills in their neighborhood and be unsafe for their children (this from their correspondence to the record). In should be noted that SDAT records reveal that every home in that subdivision was built and sold years after the Ag Reserve was created.
We Need Your Calls/Emails to Support Farmers’ Right to Farm in the Ag Reserve!
We ask you to convey the following:
~Support for right to farm legislation MC 16-12, with proposed amendment that protect conservation and other important easements .
~Support for the Ag Reserve and its primary purpose: farming
~Concern that suburban developments are trying to outlaw farming
in the Ag Reserve through homeowner’s covenants.
~Concern that our family farms are being sued by those who are promoting suburban property rights over that right to farm in the Ag Reserve.
~Opposition to spot zoning through homeowner convenants!
Contact Members of Land Use and Transportation Committee:
Pressed for time? Send one email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
For others that can (and it will help):
JEFFREY D. WALDSTREICHER
(410) 841-3130, (301) 858-3130
1-800-492-7122 , ext. 3130 (toll free)
CRAIG J. ZUCKER
(410) 841-3380 (301) 858-3380
(410) 841-3493, (301) 858-3493
1-800-492-7122 , ext. 3493 (toll free)
Democrat, District 19, Montgomery County
(410) 841-3528, (301) 858-3528
1-800-492-7122 , ext. 3528 (toll free)
(410) 841-3001, (301) 858-3001
(410) 841-3464, (301) 858-3464
1-800-492-7122 , ext. 3464 (toll free)
SUSAN C. LEE
Democrat, District 16, Montgomery County
(410) 841-3649, (301) 858-3649
1-800-492-7122 , ext. 3649 (toll free)
Democrat, District 15, Montgomery County
(410) 841-3090, (301) 858-3090
1-800-492-7122 , ext. 3090 (toll free)
Background: Currently, farmers in the Ag Reserve are face the threat of lawsuit and effectively being prevented from farming by residents in developments that have formed homeowner’s associations and rules (covenants) that do not allow for certain farm activities or structures in the Reserve. MCA, along with our partners including Audubon Naturalist Society and County Ag groups including the MC Farm Bureau, had confidence that this common sense legislation aimed at ensuring farmers the right to farm would easily make its way to passage at the State level. Other stakeholders, including the Maryland Environmental Trust, have been working with us to ensure that the legislation is crafted to protect farming as well as important conservation programs. The process has been thoughtful, collegial and public.
What is happening to our honey bees?
How can we help?
Montgomery County Park and Planning has added some neat tools to their site and we have in turn added them to our Government Links page.
Perennial Palate, a fantastic road tripping local food web video series, stopped through town on their national tour and visited Farmer Anne at Star Gazing Farm in the Reserve. See the video here.
fyi- although the description says Virginia- this farm is very much in the MoCo Ag Reserve, a look at the satellite photos of the two states will tell you which side of the river a farm like this would be more likely to call home.
Want to watch more Perennial Palate? We can highly recommend the New Orleans episode.
March Update: Things are moving forward for the Brickyard Coalition on a number of fronts. First, the associated groups making up the coalition have filed notice for a 40 million dollar claim against the BOE, alleging violations of citizens rights in the land leasing process. Brickyard Educational Farm, a new effort to turn the farm into an educational center, filed a proposal with the County in competition with MSI’s proposal for soccer fields on the site. Most recently, 4 County Council members are proposing a new bill that will demand Council oversight of County Executive actions on long term leases or land sales.
These three developments are encouraging- it was a year ago this month that the BOE voted to stop leasing this land to Farmer Nick Maravell and instead turn it over to the County to make the 502nd and 503rd soccer fields in the County. Much more info at the Save Nick’s Organic Farm site.
January Update: Councilmember Roger Berliner got more than he bargained for at the West Montgomery Citizens Civic Association (WMCCA) meeting on January 11. Residents were frustrated that Berliner knew about the Brickyard deal (to end the 30 year lease of land in Potomac to a celebrated organic farmer in order to make soccer fields) and were asking what he could do to stop it. Berliner maintained that there is very little that the Council can do, further frustrating residents.
In the months since the farmer, Nick Maravell, and the surrounding Brickyard Rd. Community heard about the sudden termination of the lease, Nick and his supporters have won several court cases, the most recent development being an out of court settlement with the Board of Education (the body that owns the land) that will allow Nick to farm until August 15, 2012. However, as evidenced by the WMCCA meeting, residents are still upset over a process governing public land that was any thing but public, at times seeming intentionally opaque.
Nick and his supporters are going to keep up the pressure in hopes that Nick can continue to farm the parcel until it is needed for school construction (the original terms of the lease with the BOE). Over 23,000 people, some living in the county, some from far off countries, have signed the MCA originated petition on Change.org in support of Nick’s Organic Farm and applying public process to public land.
Take Action – Learn More
Save Nick’s Organic Farm
Patch report on Jan. 11 WMCCA meeting
From time to time, we like to bring the Reserve to you though videos and pictures. Here is Matt Rales from Grassential Farm discussing how he uses his farm animals to build soil and improve the health of the land. You can hear many of those animals in the background trying to steal the scene.
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From time to time we like to bring you a look at the Reserve through pictures and videos. Watch goats doing their goat thing at Rocklands Farm (“locally known, sustainably grown”).
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Washington Post Local’s handy guide to the 2012 MD General Assembly can be found
MCA continues to press forward with MC right to farm initiatives and to guard against legislation that will provide for greater development density in the Reserve.
First Fruits Farm of Germantown is boldly going where few other farms have gone before. Mechanization of farming is old news but using robots to plant and harvest greenhouse crops is a novel concept. First Fruits is soliciting donations on Kickstarter.com, an online venture capital site where ordinary people can fund extraordinary projects.
From the Kickstarter profile:
“Remember R2D2 and the Skywalker ranch? We hope to make that vision of a small family farm of the future, a reality today.
By reducing labor and energy costs, we hope to bring affordable, organic, locally grown food to every neighborhood.
Help us change the world by developing a robot controlled DIY neighborhood farm which is powered entirely with free, local, sustainable, renewable energy sources like yard and food waste.
We are recycling motors, engines, and materials to develop a series of greenhouse robots that anyone can replicate with simple tools and access to their local dump, craigslist and freecycle.org.”