Four New American farmer-owners are launching New Roots Cooperative Farm, a 30-acre farm on College St. in Lewiston that will be the first New American cooperative farm in Maine. The four farmer-owners of New Roots–Mohamed Abukar, Batula Ismail, Seynab Ali, and Jabril Abdi–are originally from Somalia. For the past 10 years, they have farmed with Cultivating Community’s New American Sustainable Agriculture Project at Packard-Littlefield Farm in Lisbon. Through New Roots Cooperative Farm, they will create a permanent home for their farm businesses while also providing healthy food to the community and preserving working farmland in Lewiston.
On August 11th from 2-4pm, New Roots Cooperative Farm will celebrate a groundbreaking ceremony for their farm with food, music, speakers, and prayers for the land. Everyone is invited to attend and celebrate this step forward for New Roots, the New American community in Lewiston, and all who care about small farms and local food.
Mohamed Abukar said, “We are a new generation of farmers, as New Americans, and we want to bring our farming to a new level. We have received support from Cultivating Community, Cooperative Development Institute, Maine Farmland Trust, Land for Good, the USDA and others to get to the point where we are. We want to develop support from other organizations and people to open the farm in 2017 and provide fresh chemical free vegetables to schools, hospitals, restaurants and people around the state.”
During their years with Cultivating Community, the members of New Roots adapted their farming skills to Maine, each growing more than 40 vegetables every growing season and selling them to regional farmers markets and to CSA customers, as well as to schools, food pantries, restaurants, and retail locations through the Fresh Start Farms Food Hub.
“The farmers in New Roots have worked very hard over the years to reach this point in their journey,” says Cultivating Community’s Sarah Marshall. “It is exciting and empowering to watch your dreams become reality, and this group of farmers has dreamed of running their own farms in Maine since they arrived, some moving to Maine specifically to do so. They are an inspiration for their families and the larger community as they take this next step in land stewardship. I am excited to see what comes next as New Roots steps out of Cultivating Community’s incubator program and onto their own farmland.”
With help from the United States Department of Agriculture, through a Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program Grant, Cultivating Community hired Maine Farmland Trust (MFT) to assist these farmers with a customized land search in the Lewiston area. MFT was able to acquire 30 acres of the former Gendron Farm on College St. through their Buy/Protect/Sell Program in January 2016, and on July 14th, New Roots signed a lease with an option to purchase the property from MFT. Erica Buswell, Farmland Access Program Manager said, “It’s really been an honor to have played a small role in helping these refugee farmers by creating a place for them to land their new and independent farming venture. Working with these amazing farmers has not only provided MFT with a profoundly important opportunity to use our farmland access tools to help beginning farmers, but it has also been a personally transformative experience for me as an agricultural service provider and a human being. I feel really enriched by this project and my relationship with these farmers, and I look forward to watching them succeed on their new farm.”
Land for Good helped the farmers learn about land tenure arrangements and assisted them in determining what they needed for new farmland. During the farmers’ land search, Land For Good worked with farmland owners to help establish relationships with the farmers. Jo Barrett, Maine Field Agent for Land For Good said, “The New Roots farmers are so inspiring. Their resilience, hard work and love of farming have helped them adapt to a new culture and a new climate. Having been a farmer myself, I am in awe of the way these farmers have persevered. It is an honor to know them.”
New Roots Cooperative Farm is structured as a producer cooperative where each farmer owns a share of the business, and all share marketing, distribution, equipment and land. The Cooperative Development Institute (CDI) assisted in developing the cooperative structure and helping the farmers develop their business plans. Jonah Fertig is Cooperative Food Systems Developer at CDI and has assisted New Roots for the past year and a half. “New Roots Cooperative Farm is a model for their community and the state about how to use a cooperative business structure to increase access to land and markets for farmers,” he says. “Their cooperative is creating greater economic opportunity for New Americans and increasing food access in southern Maine.”
New Roots Cooperative Farm will move their farming operation from Lisbon to Lewiston in 2017 and will open a farmstand, offer personal and workplace CSAs, provide wholesale to institutions, restaurants, stores and food pantries and will continue to provide vegetables to their customers at farmers markets. They are starting a crowdsourced funding campaign at Barnraiser.us to help fund the infrastructure at their new farm.
“We have an expression in our culture that says with one finger you can not wash your face, but with a whole hand you can wash your face. By working together, we can accomplish more and grow more food for our community,” says Hussein Muktar, Cultivating Community Staff member and Technical Advisor to New Roots Cooperative Farm.
“Our aim is not only to grow food and run a business ourselves but to help our community and teach them about how to run a business,” says New Roots farmer Batula Ismail.