Thank you so much to everyone who came to the meeting last night at Potomac Elementary School, sponsored by Montgomery County, to discuss the soccer fields proposal on the organic farmland along Brickyard Road. It was great to see so many of you there, holding signs, asking good questions, eating our cornbread and generally being supportive. To those of you who couldn’t make it, thanks go out to you too for your letters to editors and politicians, and for signing the petition on www.change.org. This really helps a lot.
So much positive energy emerged at the meeting that we couldn’t summarize it all here. Over the next week we will be adding to our website the pictures, videos, statements, and more description of what happened.
The good news is that the gathering was over-flowing beyond the meeting room with supporters wearing green and smiling faces. Over 250 people attended the meeting—we could tell by how much cornbread they ate—all made with corn grown on the Potomac farm (actually, we counted). Channel 4 (NBC), The Gazette, Patch and The Potomac Almanac covered the event. When the County moderator asked the crowd how many favored the organic farm, more than 90% of the hands went up. There was very little support for the County’s position to turn the farm into playing fields.
After an hour and a half of a public comment overwhelming against the County’s proposal, the County said we had to leave the meeting room because our time was up. So a gentlemen wearing green asked, “So what is the county going to do now?” The senior official at the meeting said the County would sign a lease tomorrow (April 5) with the school board and proceed to solicit proposals for the construction of ball fields. The meeting went into an uproar—So you invited us here to get public input, and then you tell us the decision had already been made before you had even had a chance to hear what we had to say?
Where do we go from here?
FIRST, We should continue to advance our alternative vision for the use of the land. The Montgomery Countryside Alliance (MCA) has presented an alternative proposal for the land in a letter to County Executive Ike Leggett originally signed by 11 other national, regional, state, and local organizations. That list has now grown with the addition of Beyond Pesticides, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and Will Allen’s Growing Power. (Will Allen grew up in Montgomery County and worked on farms here.)
The MCA proposal calls for the creation of a County Food and Agriculture Policy Council, lodged in the private non-profit sector and with County representation, to help many County initiatives that have already begun, such as the Small Farm Incubator Project and the Sustainable Community Food Initiative, and to use the 30-year proven track record of Nick’s Organic Farm as the down-County educational anchor to provide experiences for school children and adults. This proposal would cost the county nothing and would build upon the non-profit food and agriculture organizations in the area.
Nick was able to walk County Executive Ike Leggett around the farm last Sunday and present the ideas in that proposal. The County Executive has endorsed these County food and agriculture initiatives, but has not been able to fund them. Using our farm to help, and relying on the non-profit sector, we hope that he will like the possibilities to turn this farm into an asset for the whole county, and beyond. County Executive Leggett has said he would come back to the farm and that he would consider some accommodation. We do not know what that is.
SECOND, to pursue our alternative we will have to mount a sustained County-wide political campaign the same effort that will be required for a County Food and Agriculture Policy Council. Many of the people and groups who participated in last night’s meeting and the March 8 school board meeting , and many of the groups that have already signed on to our letter could work together on this. The beauty of this campaign is that we are building for the future, even if we do not achieve our immediate objectives, we still will be gaining other worthy achievements along the way. This can be a win-win situation.
I hope to begin conversations with MCA and the signers of the MCA letter to chart a strategy equal to the task ahead. My concepts are to build upon what has made us successful to date. Stay well-grounded in the community—savor the sense of place. Keep very decentralized structures that are responsive to the most local of conditions—top-down organizing does not encourage innovation, creativity or commitment. Communicate on different levels—be open to political relationships, community relationships, and relationships with the natural world. In time, each will inform the other.
For the rest of this week my attentions will be elsewhere. Next week I hope to be able to give a date to bring people together.
THIRD, due to the timing of events, it is necessary for me to preserve my legal options. I have filed an appeal with the Maryland State Board of Education concerning the Montgomery County Board of Education decision to lease the Brickyard Road school site to the County for a public-private partnership with a private athletic organization to construct and operate ball fields. I have also filed a complaint with the Open Meetings Act Compliance Board concerning certain aspects of the process used by the local Board of Education to reach its decision on the leasing of the Brickyard Road school site. Legal action is less desirable than reaching a political solution with our elected and community leaders. Hopefully, further legal action will not be necessary, but we are prepared.
#2 Stay tuned. We will be back to you about how to come to another meeting, join a gathering of like-minded individuals, or how to participate in some of the fun things the organizing groups are planning.
#3 Expand the network. Spread the word. You know how to communicate with your friends. If they are interested, bring them long.
#4 Create your own ideas, think free. Discuss your thoughts with others. See what others want to do. How would they contribute to a Montgomery County Food and Agriculture Policy Initiative? When we have a focal point, we will begin sharing.
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