The Washington Post

Organic farmer in Montgomery goes to court to prevent land from becoming soccer fields

Nick Maravell working at his farm on March 11, 2011 in Potomac, Md. (Juana Arias/For The Washington Post)

His lease expires on Jan. 1, and school officials notified him last March that they planned to lease the land to the county to be used for soccer fields.

Soccer fields are in high demand in the sprawling and increasingly developed county, where 14,000 young suburbanites don knee pads and join youth soccer leagues. And school officials have said that athletic fields are in line with their mission.

But the decision sparked protests from neighbors and farming advocates around the world. A series of petitions to protect the farm has gathered 50,000 signatures, including thousands from Montgomery.

Maravell and his supporters allege that the school board violated open meetings laws, as well as state education laws, when making the decision. He’s asking the judge to rule on the school board’s process and potentially reverse its decision, or at least let him continue farming while he awaits a separate ruling from the Maryland Board of Education.

“There was never any public airing of what would be a good change of use for this land,” he said in an interview Tuesday. He proposes that the land be used as an educational farm in the future, to give students the chance to visit and learn about how food is grown.

Historically, every three or five years the school board would make the land available for competitive bids, Maravell said.

But last March as he was preparing to renew his application for the land, the school system informed him they had already decided to lease it to the county.

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in the Washington region.

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