By Barry Scher
In the summer of 2019, U.S. Naval Academy graduate and former Gaithersburg resident Gerardo Martinez and his wife Jessica were on a business trip to Cameroon in central Africa. At the time, Gerardo was CEO of Triple Direct Leadership, an international leadership development consulting firm. While in Cameroon, they stayed at a local farm to gain a better understanding of the country and its people. It would be a pivotal turning point in their lives.
The Martinezes say they witnessed poverty and hunger they had never seen before. The couple returned home vowing to do all they could to help others facing similar issues.
They sold their home and bought a run-down property with 5 acres of farmland in Edgewater. They named it Wild Kid Acres.
“My goal was to buy a few farm animals and grow some produce to make donations to those in need. I also knew how to work with my hands, so I started to fix up the surrounding land as we lived on the property in our RV”, said Gerardo. “We then bought a few chickens and goats and then along came the addition of turkeys, pigs, cows and even some bees to make honey. We were adaptive learners.”
Before long, their Edgewater neighbors started visiting their property out of curiosity to see what was going on and that’s when the plan began to expand.
Wild Kid Acres now hosts several hundred visitors annually. You can call it a petting zoo, but Gerardo says Wild Kid Acres offers so much more in the way of hands-on educational opportunities for young people.
“We introduce young people to farming, but also educate visitors on ways to help end poverty, improve water and air quality, climate control management and increase food production,” says Gerardo.
Now the fundraising and philanthropic arm of the company, Wild Kid Acres Foundation, is getting a boost thanks to the help of state Sen. Sarah Elfreth and Del. Seth Howard who co-sponsored a $250,000 bond bill recently passed by the General Assembly.
The funds are specifically earmarked for the construction of two separate structures on the Edgewater farm property. One structure will be a 5,000-square-foot open space barn with a market to sell produce from local farms and serve as a classroom to teach regenerative farm practices. The other structure will be called the Heritage Rotunda and will feature a covered horse-riding arena with a 60-foot diameter gazebo for riding instruction and animal education programs.
“We will also be working with special needs children and adults to provide horticulture therapy in order to build social skills,” said Gerardo. “The Heritage Rotunda is going to be dedicated to the Black history of the farm as the property was at one time a practice field for the former Cougars, an all- Black female softball team.”
Construction of the planned new facilities at Wild Kid Acres will begin next month and completion is planned for the end of this summer. “We formed an active board of directors to oversee our foundation but our greatest need at this time is for volunteers to help with the construction and to help us keep the farm running,” explained Gerardo.
The Wild Kid Acres Foundation also just signed a lease-to-own contract to grow certified organic produce on a 25-acre parcel near Waldorf, and will donate all produce grown this year to the Anne Arundel County Food Bank. In the future, Gerardo plans to sell some of the produce at the Edgewater farm facility to help cover operating expenses.
The support for the state bond $250,000 grant was made possible with aid from the county executive’s office, the county council, and Anne Arundel Economic Development Corporation. “Our team has worked with Gerardo Martinez for the past year or so. We are excited he has received grant funds to move forward with his barn build and we look forward to how it will help the agriculture community and our efforts to create a more sustainable local food supply chain,” said Lisa Barge, AAEDC Agriculture Marketing and Development Manager.
Learn more: wildkidacres.org.