Credit: Christine Zhu

Kate Gould described the King Farm Community Garden in Rockville’s Farmstead Park as a “happy place” for residents who use its 39 plots for gardening.

Over the years, hundreds of members of the community garden have shared their produce with the community and donated food to the Gaithersburg nonprofit Manna Food Center. It’s a way for neighbors to strengthen their relationships with each other, according to Gould, who serves as president of the garden group.

Gould said that when the pandemic started, the garden’s waiting list for plots grew “exponentially” as people spent more time outdoors.

“We all really enjoyed having a place in nature that we could go to that was outdoors and safe,” Gould said. “It brought the gardeners closer together, too, because we share that experience.”

That might change, though. On July 18, Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and the Rockville City Council members are expected to evaluate proposed alternative long-term uses for the farmstead that could lead to the loss or relocation of the garden. The park consists of 7 acres and includes a grill, picnic tables, street parking and a portable restroom.

The King Farm Community Garden formed a task force to save the farmstead and garden, Gould said. This task force aims to work with the mayor and council to find uses that will maintain the nature of the park and its historic district, according to the task force.

The city of Rockville took control and responsibility of the King Farm Farmstead in the mid-1990s, according to a report presented to the council by Partners for Economic Solutions in April. Various operations have occupied the space since then, with eight structures remaining today. Efforts to maintain the changing structures are “quite expensive,” according to the report.

Looking forward, the city wants to pursue continual occupancy for the space, the report said. Ideas include medical offices, restaurants, performing art spaces, child care and rental housing.

“We don’t have plans yet,” said Tim Chestnutt, Rockville’s director of recreation and parks. “The challenge has been figuring out what the ultimate use should be.”

Many of the options focus on revenue-generating uses for the farmstead, which would require an additional parking lot, according to the report.

“It will be a big shock if a decision is made that changes the farmstead in a significant way,” Gould said. “It’s hard to imagine those types of uses being consistent with its use as a park and a recreational place.”

Considering how “underutilized” the King Farm Village Center commercial district is, community garden members question the prospects of an additional commercial venture that would be located in the Farmstead, according to an article that task force members wrote for The King Farm Chronicle, a community newspaper.

Farmstead Park is King Farm’s only permanently designated park, since two others, Mattie Stepanek and King Farm parks, are designated for future school sites, according to the task force.

Residents can share their input with city officials during the community forum portion of the council’s July 18 meeting, Chestnutt said.

Christine Zhu of Gaithersburg, a rising junior at the University of Maryland who is studying journalism and Spanish, is the Bethesda Beat summer intern.