Abundance: Somali Bantu farm in Wales reaps a harvest

Khamisey Haji, left, and Ali Hamse return from the fields Wednesday morning at Liberation Farms in Wales after picking tomatoes, cucumbers and other produce. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

WALES — Harvest time on most farms is fast and largely mechanized.

Not on the Somali Bantu Community Association’s Liberation Farms, the place nearly every thing is executed by hand, from planting to choosing, washing to packing. It’s not the noise of a roaring mix within the fields off Gardiner Road, however the occasional chatter in Somali, or hens and roosters clucking and crowing as they flee a path they share with the goats.

Make no mistake, it is a enterprise, albeit a nonprofit one, with produce to be grown and orders always fulfilled from May to November. As the rising season involves an finish, the group’s CEO says this very first yr of proudly owning and working the farm has been an excellent success, despite the fact that Somali farmers have had a presence there since 2014.

“We are learning as we go,” defined Muhidin Libah, government director of the Somali Bantu Community Association. “We were never business people in Somalia, especially (the agricultural companies). We never thought that anyone could make a good business out of agriculture – because we were farmers, but we didn’t have resources, we didn’t have money.”

The group’s supervisor explains what’s completely different about this farm is that an estimated 80% of what the business facet of the farm produces goes instantly to meals pantries in Maine. As a member of the Mainers Feeding Mainers program run by the Good Shepherd Food Bank, the farm takes orders from and grows particularly for all of its shoppers, together with the meals pantries, church buildings and the Good Shepherd Food Bank.

Founded in 2010, Mainers Feeding Mainers has since introduced collectively 80 agricultural companions to amass and distribute greater than 2 million kilos of recent, Maine-grown meals per yr to households in want.

Under the Iskashito, or conventional Somali cooperative farming enterprise mannequin, there are 9 teams of farmers consisting of 5 farmers in every group. Together they resolve the place to develop the varied crop choices inside their designated land. Each group splits the earnings equally from what they develop, minus 15%, which fits again to the farm to assist cowl bills reminiscent of gasoline, upkeep and drip hoses for the plots.

Liberation farms can be residence to only over 200 subsistence farmers who’re given plots of land measuring one-tenth of a hectare to develop crops to feed their households.

Libah stated now pumpkins, squash, zucchini and cucumbers dominate the fields. There are additionally lots of sunflowers and amaranth which can be minimize recent and bought in bundles at farmers markets. While Liberation Farms sells some produce to small eating places and retailers, their work with the Mainers Feeding Mainers program is intently tied to their nonprofit mannequin and Somali values.

Hassan Barjin, proper, goes again to the fields Wednesday morning to choose extra produce at Liberation Farms in Wales. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

“This is how we want to be,” Libah defined. “We’re a nonprofit organization and we want to see our products go to people in need. So that’s why we partnered with the Mainers Feeding Mainers program.”

The enhance in Mainers looking for meals help this summer season is one thing Libah is keenly conscious of and says can be taking place within the Somali neighborhood in Lewiston. “It affects everyone, but we see that more people in the Somali community are becoming more and more needy.”

In response, the Somali Bantu Association has elevated its free product donations to individuals looking for meals by means of three meals pantries and on the group’s headquarters at 222 Pine St. in Lewiston.

The farm didn’t set a manufacturing goal for this primary yr, however relatively the purpose was to meet all their orders. Last yr, if a particular provide was lacking, e.g. chard, they’d need to add one other product like kale to fill incomplete orders.

Libah stated they’re on target to fulfill the acknowledged purpose of fulfilling all their orders. Before the planting season begins, the wholesale prospects pre-order what they need from an inventory of crops that the farmers collectively resolve to develop. Every seed that goes into the bottom is tied to the checklist of orders.

At the top of the season, Libah and different managers will sit down with all of the farmers to speak about what labored and did not work effectively and to strive to seek out options to any issues for the following season. Having one central location has been notably useful, saving priceless journey time and expense from earlier years when the Somali farmers needed to hire land to develop their crops.

Liberation Farms additionally serves as a neighborhood gathering place the place Somalis can collect to roast corn, discuss freely and socialize outdoors, one thing customary in Somali tradition, Libah defined. Now they’ll get away from their condominium in Lewiston and are available to the farm the place they really feel snug.

“Around 5 o’clock you see a bunch of people burning corn,” he stated. “There’s a sense of community — talking and sitting in groups — so this replaces sitting in Kennedy Park and other parks in the city. This is a home away from home.”

Freshly picked broccolini is able to be shipped to a buyer at Liberation Farms in Wales on Wednesday. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Some classes discovered: Beets and onions want extra water, which the farm didn’t have earlier than the season began. They now have a effectively with drip irrigation. The farm stand, or Suuq as they name it, is possible to open on completely different days subsequent yr.

“We picked the wrong days,” Libah stated. “We chose Wednesday and Thursday, and we found that Saturday and Sunday are the best days.”

As a part of the training curve, Libah and different managers stress the significance of being on time for appointments and occasions. Libah defined that Somalis should not time-conscious like most Americans. If you will have an appointment at 9 o’clock, he defined, meaning you will have to get off the sofa at 9 o’clock.” Now, he stated, they’re studying to account for journey time and stress to newcomers that they need to get up at 8.00 to be someplace at 9:00 a.m.

Also, he stated it is much less anxious and persons are extra organized than earlier than. But it is a work in progress out at Liberation Farms.

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