CHARLES KOINER: Montgomery County's First Urban Farmer
Mr. Charles Koiner passed away in January 2019; he was 98. He is survived by his daughter, Lynn, his cat, Hank, and a nonprofit named in his honor, The Charles Koiner Center for Urban Farming (CKC Farming).
"Charlie [wasn't] like most folks these days," according to long time friend and neighbor, Maryann DeMarco.
Charlie Koiner was not driven by fame and fortune; he did not afford himself rest and relaxation (even at 98 years old); and he used his brain to figure things out rather than asking Google.
Charlie farmed his 1-acre Corner Plot in downtown Silver Spring for nearly 40 years - all along paying residential property taxes on all 5 parcels, with no investment incentives for his land whatsoever. He simply wanted to farm it.
In November 1920, Charlie was born in the kitchen of his family farmhouse on their 33 acre fruit and vegetable farm. As a child, he helped his family run the farm and hunted rabbit and squirrel for dinner ... "pot pie" he says, "now that was good eatin." Charlie attended school at the now historic Montrose Schoolhouse and remembers seeing horse and buggy traveling along Rockville Pike. He purchased his first car in 1940 for $400 using the money he earned as a caddy at a nearby 9-hole golf course (now the site of White Flint Mall).
Charlie's life followed many twists and turns, as all lives do, but he always stayed true to his farming roots. I suppose that is why he was so disheartened when his family had to sell their farm to make way for what is now Pike & Rose (formerly Mid-Pike Plaza, formerly Corvette's).
In the 1950's, Charlie went to work as a farm manager at Timberlawn Farm. The Timberlawn estate was owned by Mr. George Calvert Bowie and Mrs. Hattie Corby Bowie, who also owned Strathmore .
In an interview with Bethesda Magazine in 2009, Charlie recalls his time managing Timberlawn Farm:
"When I married Helen, we moved from my parents’ farm into a
house on the Bowie estate. They rented the main house to the
Shrivers from 1961 to 1979. When [Sargent Shriver] was running
for vice president [in 1972], the Secret Service had a trailer out
there. Before and after JFK was killed [in 1963], John-John and
Caroline [Kennedy] would come out to visit their cousins, ride
horses, swim in the pool. I’d take the tractor and sleigh and drive
them around in the snow. John-John didn’t want to be in the
sleigh; he would climb up on the tractor with me."
Charlie, in his quiet mannered way, managed to delight children who visited his farm until his last season. In 2018, Charlie had a group of East Silver Spring Elementary students laughing and having fun on their scavenger hunt as they tried to find him hiding behind vines of lima beans that grew along fences.
This silly, occasionally curmudgeonly, exceptionally hard working, and extremely unassuming life-long farmer had no idea that urban farming would become such a popular social movement. And if you tried to give him any credit as an inspiration of this movement, he was quick to decline.
In 1979, Charlie retired from Timberlawn Farm and began farming in downtown Silver Spring. Back then, the term “urban farm” or “urban homestead” was unheard-of, and the age of Victory Gardens had all but been forgotten. Food production at this time was increasingly shifting away from individuals and into larger industrial farms. As the city of Silver Spring grew up all around Koiner Farm, Charlie faced great social and financial pressure to sell his property.
But, he never sold. And now our generation and generation to come will have this beautiful little farm right here in our city.
Charlie passed away in January 2019 after spending the afternoon ordering seeds and talking about his plans for the spring.
CKC Farming now holds a conservation easement on Koiner Farm that protects historic one-acre farm in perpetuity.
Charlie in 2009 posing for a Bethesda Magazine article
Charlie observes his lettuce in early 2000's.
Charlie prepares soil in March 2017 before Urban Ag Tax Credit passes
Charlie teaches urban farmer intern in 2018