Giving back: New solar panels support a local urban farm

Clark School staff, students and faculty at Koiner Farm

Photos top to bottom. 1) Bryan Quinn preparing to install solar panels. 2) Graham Simon. 3) Hannah Sholder and Behtash Babadi. 4) Shihab Shamma enjoys the farm's bounty. --- Photos courtesy Hannah Sholder. Click for larger view.

Staff, students and faculty from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), the Institute for Systems Research (ISR) and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) are giving back locally by supporting Koiner Farm, an urban farm in downtown Silver Spring, Md. These Clark School colleagues have done more than purchase produce from the farmstand—they also have provided technical assistance for a solar installation project that’s helping the farm become more sustainable.

ECE Director of Technical Operations Bryan Quinn and CEE undergraduate student Graham Simon, son of Professor Jonathan Simon (ECE/Biology/ISR), worked together to install solar panels to power the farm's refrigerator, lights, and seed start heat mats.

Quinn performed all the calculations needed to ensure enough panels were installed to guarantee power would be available when needed. He and Simon then did the installation work.

The goal of engineering is to make a positive impact on society, Quinn says. “For me, it was a natural fit to work with the Charles Koiner Conservancy for Urban Farming (CKC Farming), the nonprofit land trust that stewards and operates Koiner Farm. I am proud that providing a sustainable energy solution can help them in their mission to grow good food in an urban setting.”

Professor Shihab Shamma (ECE/ISR) has become a frequent customer of Koiner Farm, and has “adopted” rows of plants in honor of his family members. Shamma also enjoys coming to the farm’s monthly concert series to relax with other ECE/ISR faculty.

“The goodness of the vegetables, salads and fruit from this beautiful organic farm makes you feel it is truly unnecessary to wash the dirt off them lest you lose a lettuce leaf or bruise a tomato, or nick a fig!” Shamma says. Coming to the farm “is a pure wholesome joy for the soul.”

Associate Professor Behtash Babadi (ECE/ISR) has even closer ties. His spouse, Hannah Sholder, is a founder of the land trust and its director of farm management. She began volunteering on the farm in 2016, when owner Charles Koiner was 95 years old. In three years with him, Sholder tried to absorb as much of Koiner’s farming wisdom as possible. In 2018, she co-founded the nonprofit CKC Farming with the goals of preserving Koiner’s farm and passing on his knowledge to future generations.

Sholder is grateful for the new solar panels. Using language an engineer would enjoy, she says, “This helps the farm function as a closed-loop, self-sustaining system. I hope we can continue to grow the bond between neighborhood-based farms and the University of Maryland, to foster greater connection with the food we eat, with the land and with each other.”

About Charles Koiner, Koiner Farm and CKC Farming

The Charles Koiner Conservancy for Urban Farming (CKC Farming) is a nonprofit urban land trust that protects and sustains community-led urban farms in Montgomery County, Md. The conservancy emerged out of a need to preserve the iconic Koiner Farm, an urban farm in downtown Silver Spring. The farm, founded in 1979, was operated by Charles Koiner for 40 years until his passing at age 98 in 2019. In 2010, Mr. Koiner's way of life was documented in the film, Corner Plot. In late 2018, shortly before his death, Montgomery magazine featured Koiner in the story, "The First Urban Farmer." Today, his legacy continues through the work of CKC Farming.

CKC Farming co-holds a conservation easement protecting Koiner Farm in perpetuity and manages the farm's day-to-day operations with help from volunteers and interns. The trust also is working to establish a network of neighborhood farms to train the next generation of sustainable food innovators and collectively support a more sustainable and resilient food system for Montgomery County.

The trust offers 12-week, hands-on internships in which students can gain course credit or a stipend. For opportunities to get involved at Koiner Farm or another urban farm near you, visit

—Our thanks to Hannah Sholder for the story, and Shihab Shamma for bringing this news to our attention.

Published December 20, 2022