Sunday, May 3, 2009

Octogenarian Charlie Koiner Leads the Way in City Farming - Real People Eat Local

By Kristi Bahrenburg Janzen, Real People Eat Local

Only one block from a typical urban strip in downtown Silver Spring, MD, that includes an old parking garage, a beauty parlor and an Ethiopian restaurant, Charlie Koiner, who’ll be 88 in November, still has a farm. It’s hard to believe, but turning east onto Easley Street off Fenton, in the course of one block, you shift from urban grime to fertile rural splendor, from the cramped seat of your hot car to a comfy lawn chair under a mature shade tree, from the usual “rodent issue” to a farm cat named Hank.

Like the proverbial turtle, slow and steady, Charlie Koiner seems to have won the race, as his lifetime of farming and gardening has propelled him from “regular guy” to local pace-setter, an icon of the “new” urban agriculture. You first realize you’re at his place when, right there on the corner, you get a glimpse of his current offerings on a handmade sign – for example, “figs,” “raspberries” and “tomatoes” right now in September. Then you see the whole thing: his acre -- which appears much larger amid the neighborhood of modest World War II era homes with neat little yards – is brimming with a stunning variety of vegetables, berry bushes and fruit trees. Multicolored zinnias and gladioli, and magenta cockscomb celosia in the central plot give the whole place a festive atmosphere.

“It’s great!,” says Koiner’s neighbor Karla Saunders. “No one believes me when I tell them I have a farm in my block,” she says. “There’s something quite comforting about the sign that tells you what’s available. It just feels out of place and out of time.”

Experienced, talented and friendly, Koiner inspires a loyal following. If he doesn’t have what you want on his display table, Koiner is well-known to wander back into his yard and pick it for you. Steve Simko, a patron who biked by recently to pick up some produce, explains, “This is the best stuff. It’s fresh stuff. It’s close by. And Charlie is the best farmer in the state of Maryland.”

Perhaps Simko is not exaggerating. The lines of vegetables and seedlings are beautifully straight; the leafy greens are lush; there’s nary a weed in sight; the produce is unblemished. If anyone needs official confirmation of Koiner’s aptitude, here it is: This year, Koiner and his daughter Lynn -- who helps him out at the farmers market, manages his email traffic, and tends her own plots of culinary herbs – brought home a jaw-dropping 130 ribbons from the Montgomery County Fair, as well as four Grand Champion awards. Lynn also received the coveted “Best of Show” for her market basket.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I used to live a half block away. We miss you Charlie!