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Urban Farm Flourishes in Downtown Area

  • June Soh

For 30 years, Charlie Koiner, 90, has continued to farm, even as development springs up around him.

For 30 years, Charlie Koiner, 90, has continued to farm, even as development springs up around him.

Ninety-year-old keeps farming as development springs up around him

On a warm day, Charlie Koiner tends to the fruits and vegetables growing on his patchwork farm, which is made up of a collection of small plots. A few blocks - and a world - away is downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, an urban area just outside Washington, D.C.

Koiner, 90, has grown a wide variety of produce on the lot next to his home since he bought the land 30 years ago. He calls it the best investment he ever made, but not in terms of money.

“I have an acre (4,000 square meters) of ground here and that gives me plenty of room and plenty of ground to work," he says. "So it keeps me busy just raising all this stuff. I enjoy it.”

Born and raised on a family farm that is now a shopping mall in a fast-growing Washington suburb, Koiner has gardened all his life.

"That was my grandfather’s place, and we had some 30 acres (12 hectares) right there, that was all country and everything. And we had horses and cows and chickens and always raised a big garden.”

He takes pride in what he grows in his plots and customers drop by frequently to pick up produce. Many of them are regulars, like Martha Grundmann, who came across Koiner's farm by chance seven years ago.

“I was driving by one day taking a shortcut from work," she says, "and I saw this sign on the corner saying 'radishes, cucumbers, lettuce,' and I said, 'This is a garden in the middle of Silver Spring?'"

Barbara Stein comes to Koiner’s every week. “In the early 80s, my mother and aunt started to go to him. I enjoy talking to him, he is a very sweet man. I love his produce. He has great prices and wonderful stuff. I feel kind of loyal to him.”

Saturday, when he sells his produce at a nearby farmers’ market, are Koiner’s busiest day. He says he could not do all the work without his daughter.

"I grew up on a farm with my father. I am the only child. And around the farm I followed my father everywhere," says Lynn Koiner. "I worked on the farm and it was not because I had to, but I just loved doing it. I am the same as my father, I could not live any other way.”

Lynn, now 65, recalls the reactions from developers when her father purchased this piece of land.

“As soon as my father bought it they started calling me, asking me what I wanted to do with the land, and I said 'We are going to farm it.' Well, you could hear, like, you know, air being sucked out of a room, this gasp of, farm? They could not believe.”

The Koiners say they still don’t plan on selling.

“Over the years I have had a good life," he says, "just working, and I am thankful for that, at my age, to be able to get out here and do what I am doing now. As long as I am able or fit to do it, I like to keep on doing it.”

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