“When you step onto his plot. it doesn’t feel like you’re in the city anymore, even though it’s only two or three blocks away from downtown,” said Ian Cook, one of two local filmmakers who collaborated on a documentary about Koiner and his daughter.
The two tend to a wide selection of fruits, vegetables and herbs growing in the field next to their home. Regulars know they can pop by the Koiner home almost anytime for a few heads of lettuce, some kale or a handful of grape kiwis when they’re in season.
The farm — really a series of plots — isn’t a huge moneymaker for the pair. And although they probably could sell the parcel and retire with the proceeds, that prospect holds little appeal for the elder Koiner.
“At my age, it gives me something to do,” he said as he puttered about one recent Saturday, checking on his kale and bok choy. “This acre is just enough.”
Koiner has the aches and pains of a man heading into his 10th decade on Earth. He had triple bypass surgery in 1987, but for the most part, he says, he feels fit.
His daily uniform is simple — neatly pressed khakis, a short-sleeved button-down shirt, baseball cap and sturdy brown work boots. He doesn’t wear gloves, preferring the feel of the dirt and the vegetables he tends with his hands.
He doesn’t mind questions or even giving the occasional tour — but he’s not above cutting off conversation when he thinks it’s time to get back to work.
The Koiners have been farming their little acre of land since 1982. In those days, Silver Spring’s downtown was not the urban mecca it is today, but even then, many thought it made more sense to build homes rather than grow crops. Lynn Koiner, 65, recalled the puzzled reactions of developers upon learning that her father planned to raise crops — not houses — on the parcel.
“Back then, it was a pretty off-the-wall idea,” Cook added. “To take that entire piece of land and turn it into an urban garden? Back [then], it wasn’t on the priority list for anyone.”
Still, it was what Koiner — a farmer all his life — knew best. He was born in Montgomery County when horses and buggies traveled along what is now Rockville Pike. His family owned 33 acres, where Mid-Pike Plaza, home to the Toys R Us, now sits.
Farmer in a starring role
Koiner is choosy about the fruits and vegetables he grows. He shies away from heirloom tomatoes (“too much trouble to raise”) and is partial to a certain type of eggplant.
But it’s the lettuce that is his pride and joy. He grows only three varieties — Green Ice, romaine and Sierra Blush, in part because he thinks they’re best suited for the hot, muggy, Washington area climate.