Nick’s Organic Farm Gets Extension To Farm Until Aug. 15
Dec. 16, 2011, Potomac, MD—In a settlement agreement that came just prior to a scheduled court date this week, Montgomery County agreed late Wednesday to allow Nick’s Organic Farm to continue farming at the school land along Brickyard Road in Potomac through Aug. 15, 2012. Nick’s Organic Farm also agreed to drop its case against the Montgomery County Board of Education, which had been pending in Montgomery County Circuit Court and was scheduled to be heard Dec. 15.
The extension, which could be lengthened again until the end of 2012, according to the agreement, is welcome news to thousands of farm supporters, who have been rallying to keep the farm as an educational tool. However, the fight for the farm is not over, as Montgomery County currently still plans to build soccer fields on the site.
“The extension is a positive development,” says Nick Maravell, owner and operator of Nick’s Organic Farm. “The next eight months will give us additional opportunities to show off how well this plot of land could offer agricultural education for Montgomery County kids,” he says. “We still hope to turn this into a place where children can learn about local food, farming and the environment through hands-on experiences.”
For three decades, Maravell had repeatedly won the lease every three to five years during the competitive bidding process, and had maintained the land for the school system while growing certified organic crops, food and seed there. Currently, he produces certified organic GMO-free heirloom food-grade corn and soy seed, some of which he in turn sells to other organic producers in the region. In March, however, without any open public debate, the Board of Education unexpectedly turned the lease over to Montgomery County amid plans to construct and operate soccer fields by a private athletic organization. Maravell then secured a license with the County to farm the land, but only until the end of this year.
The Montgomery County Circuit Court had been scheduled to rule Dec. 15 on a case filed by Maravell, which alleged the school board violated the Open Meetings Act and sought an injunction to leave the farm on the land. (In previously reported decisions, the Open Meetings Compliance Board did find the school board was in violation of the Open Meetings Act in this instance, but only the court can order a remedy.) The suit sought to void the lease from the Board of Education to the County for the land, but it has now been dropped.
Separately last week, leading up to the settlement, Nick's Organic Farm won three legal victories in the effort to save the farmland. First, on Dec. 8, Richard E. Jordan, judge for the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, denied the School Board's motion for a summary judgment against Nick's Organic Farm, which would have allowed the School Board to avoid trial.
Second, the judge partially denied the School Board's motion to quash subpoenas for the seven school board members to be witnesses at the planned trial on Dec. 15. The Board of Education tried to argue that board members need not testify because, as legislative officials, they had “official immunity” due to their “official capacity.” But the court decidedthey would have needed to testify.
Third—and in a move that did not affect the Circuit Court but rather a separate matter pending with the State Board of education—on Dec. 6, the County School Board also lost its administrative motion to restrict the information the State School Board would be able to consider in deciding whether the local board violated state education law.
In this Dec. 6 order, signed by the Maryland State Board of Education President James H. DeGraffenreidt, the State Board overruled the local board's assertion that only the minutes of its March 8 meeting could be admitted as evidence in the appeal. These minutes were not released to the public until after the local board had a chance to see the appeal filed with the State Board.It could be argued that the minutes are self-serving by leaving out information critical to proving the case advanced by our appeal. The minutes did not include information available from the full video tape and transcript of the meeting. Now, both the video and the full transcript, and other documents, are permitted as evidence.
Regardless of the settlement this week, the appeal to the State Board of Education is still proceeding. The merits of this appeal will be considered at the earliest at the next State Board of Education meeting, scheduled for Jan. 24-25, 2012.
Nick’s Organic Farm LLC (www.nicksorganicfarm.com) has certified organic operations in Potomac and Buckeystown, MD, producing row crops, grass-based livestock, vegetables, seed, and animal feeds. Farming organically since 1979, Nick Maravell, its owner, is nationally recognized and has been called on to testify at federal and state levels. He has been active in national and state development of organic legislation and standards, organic research priorities, and organic marketing issues. Late last year, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack appointed Maravell to serve on the National Organic Standards Board, a panel of unpaid experts established by Congress to set organic industry policy.
All content on the website of Nick’s Organic Farm is original and the property of Nick’s Organic Farm, unless otherwise indicated.