Tuesday, November 26, 2013


I have so much to learn from the brave farmers of Fresh Start Farms. Nine farmers graduated from the training program on Friday and as each of them walked across our make-shift stage to receive their diploma, I was struck by how much each of them has learned in the three years I have known them. 
Approximately half of them have made it through the rigorous process of becoming US citizens by way of passing a test about American history and laws that the average educated American adult would be hard pressed to pass without some serious studying. All of them have learned to grow many new vegetables, are figuring out how to navigate the world of wholesale produce sales, and are improving their ability to tell their customers about their farms and how to cook their vegetables.  
They are learning the best place to take their vehicles for an oil change and that they prefer the quality of red rover radish seeds from one seed company over another. They are learning how to tweak their farmer's market stands to capture the American aesthetic and that celery spaced at 12 inches produces a much better head than celery spaced at 10 inches. 

They have learned so much. But what amazes me the most is the increase in literacy among this graduating group of farmers. As an educated, white American who was raised by very educated parents who enrolled me in Montessori School at the 18 months of age, I can not even begin to wrap my head around the mountainous task of learning a written language as an adult with a family in a new country and a foreign language. The vast majority of the farmers we work with are not literate in their own language. They are learning literacy in English. If you are reading this blog post, chances are, you, like me, cannot even begin to understand how challenging that is. And yet, they are doing it. Because they are determined to. Because they are 42 years old and dream of going to college someday. Because they are 47 years old and want to fill out their own tax returns someday. Because they are 60 years old and want to be able to read a check that a customer pays with. Because they are 38 years old and want to be an independent business owner someday, with no help from anyone. 

Yesterday I met with Seynab Ali, pictured above in white, for an annual fall meeting to talk about how the season went and to begin some one-on-one planning for the 2014 growing season. I started the meeting with Seynab with a 15 page skills assessment: 144 skills that a farmer would need to farm independently in Maine. I ask each farmer, through an interpreter, to rank their ability to perform or understand each skill ona scale of 1 to 4.  I put the thick packet of paper in front of Seynab and the interpreter started to translate the first question. Seynab stopped him. She was going to read it herself. 

An hour and a half later, she had read and answered every single one of those 144 questions. There were certainly words that she needed help with, but she was reading. And more than just reading, she was understanding what she was reading. Her reading comprehension skills absolutely blew me out of the water. I had no idea that her reading had gotten so good last winter when she was taking ESOL classes nearly every day of the week. I told Seynab how amazed and impressed I was. With a big smile, she pulled a brightly colored book out of the crack in the couch cushions and said "I am practicing every night. Library book." The book in her hands was an ESOL practice book full of short stories and questions to test comprehension. She has been using that book all summer, late at night after the harvest is done, the meal is cooked, the kids are in bed, and the morning's market prepared for, to practice her reading. 

To all of the farmers of Fresh Start Farms: you inspire me.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Omasombo's Eggplant

Omasombo Katuka was an elementary school teacher in Congo before being displaced by war. He also had a great love of growing good food for his family in their large garden. Omasombo and his wife and children made their circuitous journey to Maine nearly two years ago and immediately began the work of becoming part of their new home. The entire family has the biggest, brightest, readiest smiles I have ever seen and those big open smiles have helped Omasombo and his family create their own marketing opportunities this year.

2013 was Omasombo's first year in our farm training program and he threw himself into the learning with gusto. His quarter acre plot was so abundant and beautifully maintained this year, that visitors to the farm lit up with delight upon seeing it. Omasombo decided to focus on growing and marketing for the Congolese community in Portland and Lewiston. He acquired some very hard to come by seeds of a few Congolese crops and combined his new-found knowledge of how to grow heat-loving crops in Maine with his crop-specific knowledge attached to those precious handfuls of seeds. 

Omasombo's most successful Congolese crop this year was a variety of eggplant that is grown as a perennial in Congo. This year, Omasombo was able to harvest basket-fulls of these pale green, egg sized fruits for about 5 weeks before the plants succumbed to cool temperatures. Every Sunday for 5 weeks, Omasombo loaded up his mini-van and headed to one of Portland's African churches that has many Congolese members. He said that the first time he displayed his eggplant to the congregation, people literally danced and clapped with the joy of seeing a food that many had not seen for years. He sold out in 5 minutes. In fact, he sold out within 5 minutes 5 weeks in a row. 

As the season winds to an end, Omasombo is already thinking about next year's growing season and how he can better supply his community with the foods they miss the most. He is hoping to expand the amount of land he grows on, build a small hoop house to extend the production of his famous eggplant for a few extra weeks, and experiment with growing more vegetables that are loved by him, his family, and his community.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

We are many and one!

Among all of the reasons to connect with Fresh Start Farms, many of you noted our social justice component as one of the most important. We are working toward a world where everyone belongs, where everyone has the opportunity to make a living wage and have meaningful work - no matter where they came from.

As you may know, most of the farmers in Fresh Start Farms live in Lewiston, ME, which has been a hotbed of activity surrounding cultural intolerance and exclusion, specifically aimed at Somali refugees. However, we are heartened by recent efforts: the Many and One and Welcoming Maine campaigns, which work to bring people together and build understanding across cultures.

Watch this video to learn more, and please share widely: 

Thank you for taking part in a local food system that builds bridges in our community.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Save the date: Harvest Festival!

Hello friends!

You are all warmly invited to our annual Harvest Festival on Thursday October 24th at 7pm. This year, we're hosting it in Portland (instead of at the farm in Lisbon) so it's easier to attend!

Come to Mayo Street Arts, right around the corner from our Boyd Street Urban Farm to:

  • celebrate the Fresh Start Farms growers (Esperanza, Batula, Seynab, Mohamed, Jabril, Hawa, Khadija, Mekhan, and Hussein) who are graduating from our farmer training program this year;
  • view a photo exhibit of Fresh Start Farms growers' portraits, taken by professional photographer Amy Temple during her years of volunteering at the farm;
  • meet our Youth Growers and Culinary Crew members: high-schoolers who are learning how to be growers, leaders, chefs, and contributors to our community;
  • get a sneak peak at the Grow Cart: a tricycle-powered mobile farm stand built by MECA graduate, Hannah Merchant, which will debut next spring;
  • purchase Cultivating Community's brand new cookbook, "Beyond the Vegetable" hot off the press for our official book release;
  • sample a delicious multicultural feast and enjoy music and dancing!
A more formal invitation will follow. Feel free to bring family and friends. We hope you can come!

Learn a little bit more about Jabril, one of the graduating farmers, and visit Jabril on Thursdays at the Redbank/Brickhill farm stand in South Portland (584 Westbrook Street).


“I was a farmer when I was young, and now I am a farmer again. I will always be a farmer. If anybody says that farms and farming is no good, they are wrong, and they will know that when their stomachs are empty.”
        Jabril has been farming his whole life. When he arrived in Lewiston, he was told about the project and joined some of his friends out in the field. He already had knowledge, and familiarity with farming, it seemed natural for him to start planting seeds. Although the soil that he digs in here is different, and more consistent than the soil in Africa, which, in places, is red, white & brown.”
Although he has sold his product before too, here it is different: “Here you put everything out on the table, you have to advertise yourself” instead of just letting your product speak for you. That makes it hard to market here, but his children are involved with his business, especially the marketing end of it. When I asked him what his favorite part of his business is, he saw it all as interchangeable. He plants the seeds, he invests so that he can give at the markets in exchange for financial support. “I am happy to be at the market selling, it means that my investment is working, and people are lining up to support me.”
Lettuce, spinach, broccoli, potatoes, tomatoes, are his favorite, and most are new to him, but he knows that if you don’t have those on your table, customers won’t come by. “If my customers come to my farm, I know they will be happy with what they see. I would love it if my customers would tell their friends about me, and about our program. Let people support us, because even if you have nothing, you can put seeds into the ground.”

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Weekend at Farmers Markets

On Saturday morning, I had the pleasure of rising early and setting out to visit six different farmers who had already been up for hours, and were just putting the finishing touches on their displays as i walked up to say hello. The morning was stunning, with perfect light and just the slightest chill in the air. The displays were even more beautiful, carrots and radishes and bell peppers piled high. I left each market feeling in awe of each farmer in the program.

Sweet, crunchy carrots at John Yangas Portland Farmers Market Stand

Christines table cloth adds a personal touch to her display at the Portland Farmers Market

Fennel! This flavor can bring the most mundane of stir fries or fish dishes to a whole new level

Ground Cherries on the left, Tomatillos on the right. Ground Cherries are such a delicious suprise everytime you pull back the husk and pop one in your mouth! Tomatillos make great salsa verde to accompay tacos or enchilladas.

Jabril takes a moment to admire his display at the Saco Farmers Market

The sun shines through these bunching onions at Husseins Kennebunk Stand

French Breakfast Radishes and Kale at Jabrils Saco Market

Seynab piles her beets and carrots high at the Kennebunk Market!

Seynab greeted old friends and customers at the Kennebunk Farmers Market

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Farmer Story ~ Seyanb Ali

      Seynab knows that everything is harder without English, and when she came to the US, her English was “zero.” She didn’t know what she would do, but she soon found common ground when she heard about this program; farming the land was a language she knew. Seynab has been at the core of the program since the beginning and is a role model for farmers new to the program.   Although farming is a common language, Seynab noted that while her English was improving, she was also learning new ways to work with this new land, new climate and new marketing opportunities.

      The language of this earth had new subtleties. In Somalia, people don’t get trained in farming, they “know what farming is, they wait for the rain, for the river to flood the banks, and they know when it is a good time to plant. There is celebration to mark all these passages, before planting and after harvesting”. This is something that has carried over, and the traditions continue. Another difference in the languages of these two countries is the markets, the way things are sold, what costumers expect. “In Africa, they put a couple tomatoes on the table. Here they have to pile the tables high!” She shakes her head in amused confusion.

        Seynab has become used to new vegetables here: beets, arugula, spinach, radishes and lettuce. And she eats everything, except the radishes, and she knows there are people out there with a similar aversion! (We laugh together). Parts of her business are still very difficult. Though she knows countless ways to cook delicious kohlrabi and collard recipes (she is a fantastic cook), she has a hard time communicating this at the market. She wants her costumers to know that her process of farming, though difficult and challenging, is simple without any sprays or pesticides: “we start the vegetables in the greenhouse, then at the end of April, we put the vegetables in the ground, and harvest for our costumers when they are ready”. Everything is grown organically, the way it was done in Africa, and the way it should always be done here.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The miracle of growing food on our farm, for your home...

The miracle of growing food is so beautifully illustrated in This wonderful video of Rosy. A documentary student came to our farm in Lisbon a few weeks ago to get to know Rosy, and through this video, shows the spirit of what it is the farmers do.

The obstacles facing us sometimes seem like mountains that are too hard to overtake, and yet what Rosy is saying here is that we do overcome them, everytime we show up at the farm in the morning, and each time one of you brings our vegetables into your home. The word 'miraculous' is very aptly used here, though we so often forget to see the miraculous.

We are now into our fifth week of CSA, and the bags are starting to hold new colors and textures as August's bounty makes its way into our lives. The long anticipated summer favorites will be arriving soon, cucumbers, tomatoes, corn and eggplant. It is often funny to see the eagerness around the newly arrived small zicchini, or tomatoes. In four weeks time, we will be trying to auction them off at any price, hoping to see less and less of the brugeouning shapes and colors.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Kustancia Ounde

      Read Kustancias story, and then visit her at the Boyd St. Urban Farmstand Wednesdays 2-5.

      My name is Kustancia Ounde and I am 56 years old. I am a farmer from Southern Sudan. In Sudan we started our farming season in March. It starts raining in March. It rains until June when the sun comes back and starts to dry everything out. It rains again in July. I grew all sorts of fresh vegetables, millet, sorghum, pumpkins, white beans, other kinds of beans, cabbage, and greens. In May we planted red sorghum, cassava, sweet potatoes and corn. In June we planted cotton and in July we planted sesame and corn for a second time. During the heavy rains, the termites leave their mounds. In March and April we harvested four kinds of mushrooms that grow out of the sides of the termite mounds when it is raining. In January and February we did lots of fishing and hunting. At home we kept pigs, goats, ducks, and chickens.

        I have been farming in Maine for four years and it is very different than farming in Sudan. In Sudan we had our corn fields planted very near the village but we had to walk about 1.5 miles to get to our sorghum fields. We also had to walk very far every day to gather firewood.

        My children are interested in farming. With the moneywe made from farming, they were able to attend school. They also helped me grow mangos. I like farming in Maine. If I stay home, I am tired. When I come to the farm, I get to talk to people and have a job to do. My favorite part of farming here is when I have vegetables and I can go to the market to sell them and talk to the people who come to the market. I need help going to the market and help growing my vegetables. I eat vegetables – all of them – and a little meat. I love vegetables and salad. I eat everything I grow.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Do vegetables inspire Community? We think so.

What  is missing from this beautiful farmstand picture?

          Why the farmer who grew it all, of course! At every farmstand, there is a least one customer who asks: "who grew all this?" It is with pride that the farmer responds: "I did!".

Yesterday, at our Wholefoods farmstand, two Bosnian women stopped by. We have seen them everyweek, at one farmstand or another, since we opened. They buy Swiss Chard that they will use it in a traditional Bosnian Dish called “Pita” where the chard is cooked into an egg, cream, and cheese base. More familliar faces stop by, CSA customers picking up their bags and regular customers, looking for their familliar kale fix, or scoping out some new additions piled up on cool and wet burlap.

The red and yellow stalked swiss chard with deep green leaves made an appearance alongside curly Wintorbor and Toscano Kale bunches.

Some brand new veggies graced our stand this week as well. Tender new potatoes, summer squash and zucchini, cucumbers, Indian basil, and beautiful fennel! We saw Bok Choi, beets and green Beans on Habiba Noors stand, and colorful heads of lettuce on both.    
In the heat yesterday, we were joking that the greens were "napping" since they began to wilt. Here is a wonderful tip for reviving greens that are "napping". Place them in a bowl of cold water for a while, or even overnight in the fridge. They will spring right back to life! Check out more tips in this blog post: Also, we have included some great recipe ideas for the veggies appearing on the stands and in your CSA shares, and dont forget about our resources right here on the blog, vegetable identification and recipes!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

This week on the farm, and in your CSA bag

         By the second week of CSA, we are just beginning to get into a rhythm of sorts. All the planning, the sweat, the teaching, the learning, the relearning and the laughing....is finally made visible in the bags of vegetables delivered to waiting CSA members, and the packed cars ready to drive off to market.

Seynab Harvests Garlic Scapes
         But...the real reward happens at the point of caring, and at the point of connection. In a way, it seems like a miracle that the plants decided to grow again this year. It feels like this every year. It somehow takes us all by surprise. Regardless, the fields bloom and put forth fruit (though perhaps we should not take this for granted). What we really do not take for granted, however, is the way that each farmer grows into his or her business, taking such care to cultivate beautiful fields and connections with customers. It is more than just growing a business, it is becoming a part of this community, and at the very same time, changing the culture of this community through sustainable agriculture, and sustainable economy. Every person involved with this project is responsible for this local, yet global, shift.

           For creative uses for the shades of green in your bag, see our previous post. The squash plants are starting to trumpet forth blossoms and small tender zucchini and yellow summer squash fingers. Thanks to our intern Emma for sharing some of her favorite recipes for these, plus the beets and kale that are finding their way into your bags!

 ~Summer Squash....
is a surprisingly versatile vegetable, from breads, to patties, to dipping sauces, squash does it all. The easiest, though space consuming way to eat zucchini is to cup into slices, of whatever thickness you prefer—I usually do ¼ inch thick slices—and then simply put on an oiled pan with some salt and pepper, or even garlic or hot pepper, flip once and cook until soft to enjoy as a tasty and healthy side to any main course. Zucchini can also be a delicious addition to a Tzatziki dipping sauce—traditionally a Greek yogurt based sauce. Blend spinach, kale, garlic, scapes, salt and zucchini with a touch of olive oil in a food processor or blender, and stir that mixture into a bowl of plain yogurt for a delicious and healthy ranch or cheese sauce replacement. Flavoring like dill, parsley, or cilantro, can make the dipping sauce a bit for flavorful when standing alone, or alongside a wheat cracker. This can even be used in place of mayo on a sandwich as a healthy alternative. Squash can also be a main course when stuffed with cooked grains, ricotta or feta, herbs and onions. 

The Fields become brighter on these foggy grey days

~Superfood smoothies...
can be a great way to get veggies into your diet—especially ones that can be hard to incorporate, like kale and beets. As a rule of thumb when experimenting with these smoothies chop all hard veggies that would usually be roasted—carrots, or beets—and tear leafy greens—like kale or spinach—before putting them into a blender. Add berries, orange juice, bananas, skinned apples, any kind of juice (orange, apple, or grapefruit are some easy ones that mix well with many ingredients) or lemonade to add some sweetness to the sometimes bitter or strong veggie flavor. If you notice your smoothie isn’t mixing, or old mixing the bottom add a little more juice, and push all the ingredients down, and mixing should happen quite a bit faster. Supplements like chia seeds, wheat germ, oatmeal, protein powder, yogurt, and flax can be added to any recipe for a smoothie that is filling and nutritious. Adding some more exotic fruits, like mangos, acai berries or agave syrup, can add texture flavor and hidden nutrients. These are a great way to get nutrients, especially vitamins that are usually only taken in in small quantities. They can really come in handy for people on the go—make a batch on Sunday night and grab a glass each morning for a quick and healthy nutrient packed breakfast, or pack in a water bottle for lunch! Our favorite smoothie vegetables are avocado, beets, kale, carrots, and spinach—you’ll be surprised how the fruit flavor complements these vegetables.

Super Beet Smoothie

1 Chopped beet
4-6 leaves of kale, torn
1 loose cup of whole frozen berries
1 banana, broken
1 cup orange juice

Blend all ingredients, options for additions 3 table spoons of yogurt, 1 scoop protein powder, 1 tablespoon chia or flax seeds. Can replace orange juice with lemonade for a summery tang.

Green Power Smoothie

6 leaves of kale
1 skinned and chopped apple
½ avocado
½ cup frozen blueberries
1 banana
1 cup lemonade

Just blend all ingredients and enjoy!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Make the most of all this green!

When working with greens it is easy to get caught up in the world of salads—and while that can be a tasty and simple use for them, it can also be fun to think outside the salad bowl, especially when working with kale, arugula, garlic scapes, chard and spring onions.

Hopefully everyone has tried kale chips, but if you haven’t they can be a great way to ease into loving kale—just spritz each leaf with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and add hot pepper if you’re daring, and bake lying flat at 350 for 5-10 minutes until crispy and browning, cool and enjoy! Kale can also be a great addition to spinach in a stir-fry, complementing peppers, mushrooms, and tofu, beef or chicken. Massaged Kale Salad is a wonderful summery dish. You can go in any direction here, garlic sesame oil and lemon, or a tahini dressing with shredded carrots and raisins.
Garlic Scapes~

Garlic Scapes are the top of the garlic plant. It has exactly the same flavor as garlic and is a great substitute in any dish that calls for garlic. Instead of crushing garlic to flavor the stir-fry, chop the garlic scapes and mix them in for that garlic flavor! Or roast the whole scape and use as a side dish! Fresh Garlic Scape Pesto  is incredibly delicious on pasta.

Also makes great pesto. Arugula is a slightly spicy fresh green. It's sharp and spicy taste accompanies cheesy pizza, or a beet and goat cheese salad. Arugula can also be thrown into a stir-fry, towards the end so it is just lightly cooked, but it can also be a great additional flavor to Italian style meals—add it to your favorite pesto recipe, or chop and add to diced tomatoes for a farmer’s marinara sauce.


Swiss Chard~

Can also be a colorful addition to any stir-fry to broth-based soup. You can use swiss chard as a substitute for anything that calls for spinach. Bake it into a cheesy gratin, or stir fry it with some garlic scapes or spring onions, add some tomato sauce, and then crack four eggs into the mixture (no mixing). Throw some parmesan or feta on top, bake in the oven till eggs are cooked through. Serve with rice or cornbread or alone.

Spring Onions~

The stem of these early spring onions are still very flavorful and can be used the same way as scallions, chopped in the stir-fry, on top of a salad, pasta, or pizza, or leave the stems on and grill them and use as a side of burgers, steak, chicken, or kabobs!

Collard greens~

These hearty and nutrient packed greens are traditionally slow roasted—with butter or tomatoes—to calm the bitter flavor, but they can also be sautéed in olive oil with lemon zest and pepper flakes for a side dish with a kick!

Monday, June 24, 2013

The New and Improved Farmstands! Opening next week. Get a sneak peak.

                   This past thursday, there was a hum of activity in the office. As some prepared for the first day of youth programs, others of us were busily launching a brand new Farmstand season. Our inaugural festivity was a workshop where we previewed the new display and outlined our commitment to maintaining high standards for ourselves, our marketing and english education, and the quality of our produce. As we put the finishing touches on our workshop, the farmers arrived from Lewiston, eager to see, eager to learn, eager to begin.
                 This season marks the beginning of something special in farmstand season. After careful planning, and plenty of careful thinking, we are incredibly excited to present a farmstand that is worthy of the farmers and the amazing vegetables they grow.

        Check out our new and improved display below, but know that it is just the tip of the iceburg!

  • We looked at price signs, and prices in general, looking to simplify the process for everyone involved.
  • We looked at vegetable names, vegetable varieties and ways we could incorporate these into oral english practice. 
  • We looked at a supply checklist, and display materials that will allow the high quality of our produce to really shine through.
  • We looked at making change, and recording sales. 
  • We looked at processing alternative payments such as SNAP and WIC. 
  • After the workshop, we set up one stand all together. There was a palpable wave of excitement in the air when each farmer realized they would all sell with these beautiful new displays!
  • Each farmer left with a bag of burlap and blue berry cartons, a token of our commitment to help each farmer meet their learning goals this season. 

         Starting July 1st, we will kick off farmstand season. Stop by to meet the farmers, check out the new display, and buy some produce to bring home to your kitchen!

  • Sundays 11am-1pm - West End - St. Luke's Cathedral on State Street
  • Mondays (Opening July 1st) 1-5pm - Bayside - Whole Foods Market, at store front
  • Tuesdays (Opening July 2nd) 1-4pm - Parkside - Opportunity Alliance, 510 Cumberland Ave, parking lot
  • Tuesdays (Opening July 2nd) 3-6pm - West End - Reiche School Playground, Brackett Street
  • Wednesdays (Opening July 3rd)  2-5pm - East Bayside - Boyd Street Urban Farm
  • Thursdays (Opening July 11th because of the 4th of July) 3-6pm - Riverton - Riverton School, at side entrance next to parking lot
  • Thursdays (Opening July 11th because of the 4th of July) 3-6pm - South Portland - The Hub on Westbrook Street in Redbank/Brickhill Village

Friday, June 14, 2013

Yesterday on the Farm...

         Yesterday, as the clounds hung low in the sky, and staff worked on updating the vegetable wash station, the farmers swung tools over shoulders, left their own fields, and slowly made their way to one farmers' field. It was a rare afternoon of all hands on deck.
            When the weeds are running rampant, and there is the pressure of getting everything in the ground and mulched, farmers rarely have a second to spare. However, yesterday the farmers showed the incredible community they have created over the past years. A beloved farmer that has been in the program for over six years, has been in the hospital with a serious illness. Recognizing that her fields would have to be managed, the farmers came together and through the power of love, and many hands, turned rows of weeds into rows of carrots, and unplanted beds into planted beds. It was a manifestation of what community looks like.  
If you look ahead, you see a bed of weeds. If you look behind, the baby carrot leaves, frilly and delicate, have emerged.

   The rain is encouraging all the little plants to grow grow grow~
Already we have full size bok choi, beautiful looking lettuce heads, swiss chard and beets, robust onions and emerging garlic scapes...

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Habiba Noor and Portland Urban Farmstands

        Habiba Noor is getting ready to sell at her first full-season farm stand in Portland this summer, outside of Wholefoods on Monday afternoons 1-5, starting July 1st. Read about Habibas story here:

          When I asked Habiba what she would want to tell her customers, she said: “I want to be able to have a conversation with them, but I can't because of my English. But I want them to know that I need their support as customer, and they need my vegetables. They need my help and I need theirs”

           Habiba came to Maine from Dallas, Texas,
where she lived and worked as a seamstress for three years. The company would ship her boxes of materials; she would do the work, and then ship it back. In Dallas, Habiba was friends with Hawa Ibrahim, a farmer who has been in the New American Sustainable Farming Project (NASAP) for seven years now. Once Hawa left Texas and started farming in Maine, she called up her friend and told her about this opportunity. Habiba was excited, her parents and grandparents were farmers in Somalia and she could not wait to start farming again. She moved to Maine July 27th, 2007.

          “In Somalia, when the rain comes, you plant” says Habiba when remarking on the difference between farming in Somalia, and farming in Maine. While the rain determines the work schedule in Somalia, here you work all summer, but you have to keep an eye on the weather. Habiba misses the animals her family raised back home: chickens, goats, and camels. She loves some new vegetables that she started growing in Maine, namely swiss chard, broccoli, cucumbers and sweet potato.

          When I asked Habiba what she wanted for her future, she said: “My dream for my future will take time, because of my language challenge”. She wants her own farm, where she can keep her family safe and teach her children to be farmers. The lifestyle is her favorite part of farming: "It is always better to be outside farming for my health, then sitting inside. The hardest part of my farming business is the language, and finding good markets for selling my vegetables".

Friday, May 17, 2013

Learning New Skills

            We have been busy on the farm setting up important infrastructure for the season, namely irrigation and row cover and getting ready to use black plastic for weed control. The farmers who enter the program arrived with many skills from farming in their home country, and also had to learn some new skills related to climate and environmental changes. The farmers have learned:



Esperanza in the Greenhouse

The farmers have learned the importance of starting new seeds inside the protective walls of the greenhouse. Once the seeds are planted, they label the trays, water them carefully, and then harden them off before moving into the cold and rich outside soil. 

Some of the farmers from Somalia have talked about all the different steps one has to take to plant here. They have learned to move with the changing weather patterns, the back and forth nature of approaching spring, the threats of frost in the fall. The Somali farmers have mentioned that in their home countries, the soil is fertile and warm enough that all they had to do to plant was put seeds directly into the soil, no transplanting involved. Here, the greenhouse is a hive of activity.
Two years ago, we took a van full of farmers down to visit the The Food Project in Lowell MA, to get some expertise on irrigation methods, and specifically small scale drip tape implementation. It was a great day, and the farmers learned a lot about how to take these skills back home to use on their own land.
Here we are at one of the Food Projects urban growing plots, helping lay out drip tape.
It has taken a few years, but we have had irrigation on the farm for a while now. It is an incredibly important, fragile and expensive part of our farm infrastructure. It is also sustainable and efficient in the long run, and the farmers have been very excited to not have to fill huge blue barrels of water and lug them out to their fields every time they want to water.

 Many of the farmers from Somalia come from an agricultural system that is reliant upon the river for irrigation and nutrients. This is called a floodplains subsistence agricultural system, where the periodic flooding of the river is enough to nurture the seeds and growing plants.