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 is honor - the Charles Koiner Conservancy for Urban Farming. Charlie is deserving of a land trust named in his honor because for nearly 40 years he maintained and protected a 1-acre farm in downtown Silver Spring. All along, he paid residential property taxes on the full acre (5 individual parcels) with no development or investment incentives for his land - he simply wanted to farm.
In November 1920, Charlie was born in the kitchen of his family's farmhouse on their 33-acre fruit and vegetable farm. As a child, he helped his family run the farm. He would recall hunting rabbit and squirrel for dinner ... "squirrel pot pie" he'd say, "now that was good eatin." Charlie attended school at the now historic Montrose Schoolhouse in Rockville, MD, where he would arrive early to put coal in the classroom's furnace. Charlie talked of horse and buggy traveling along Rockville Pike and purchased his first car in 1940 for $400 using the money he earned working 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 Shopping Center).
In the 1950's, Charlie went to work as the farm manager of Timberlawn Farm. The Timberlawn estate was owned by Mr. George Calvert Bowie and Mrs. Hattie Corby Bowie, who also owned the Strathmore mansion.
In an interview with Bethesda Magazine in 2009, Charlie recalled 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, always managed to delight children who visited his farm. In 2018, Charlie had a group of East Silver Spring Elementary students enjoying a scavenger hunt at Koiner Farm as they tried to find him hiding behind vines of lima beans that grew along fences.
This kind, exceptionally hard working, occasionally curmudgeonly, and extremely unassuming life-long farmer had no idea that urban farming would become such a powerful social and environmental movement. And if you ever tried to give him credit as an inspiration of the urban farming 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 not common, the age of Victory Gardens had all but been forgotten, and family farms were being swallowed up by industrialized agricultural operations.
As the city of Silver Spring grew up around Koiner Farm, Charlie faced great social and financial pressure to sell his property - but he never sold.
Now our generation and generations to come will have this beautiful little farm, just outside the northern point of Washington, DC in Silver Spring, MD.
Charlie passed away in January 2019 after spending the afternoon ordering seeds and talking about his planting plans for the spring. He was 98 years old.
Charlie's daughter, Lynn, donated all of Charlie's old tools and farm equipment to CKC. Much of it was over 100 years old. Some of the old tools now hang in the barn at the farm and others were sold. These sale of these items, along with some cash received from the recycled metal found in the barn, provided the seed money that CKC needed to get started.
CKC Farming now manages Koiner Farm and holds a conservation easement on the property that protects this little farm in perpetuity.
Charlie in 2009 posing for a Bethesda Magazine article
Charlie observes his lettuce in early 2000's
Charlie in August 2010 when Corner Plot video is produced
Charlie prepares soil in March 2017 before Urban Ag Tax Credit passes
Charlie works with farm intern in 2018
Charlie named Montgomery County's First Urban Farmer by MoCo Mag