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.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Land Openings

         Here, Mohamed surveys his first bed of the season. It becomes very important to make the first row straight, to set the tone for the entire organization of the coming summer. Making your first row straight is a chance to truly get off on the right foot.

         Opening of the land...there is such a ceremonial feel to this phrase, and there is usually a ceremonial feel to the actual day as well. The farmers from Somalia like to mark this day with a goat feast, a tradition carried over from their home countries. For all of the farmers, bringing food marks an occasion to take a break from the often grueling labor of tilling and making beds. Farmers often share a spot of shade and some nourishment. How can you be involved?
On Friday May 10th, we will be 'opening the land', at Turkey Hill Farm in Cape Elizabeth, where many of the Cultivating Community Youth Growers and two of the Fresh Start Farmers grow. We will be planting potatoes, opening beds, and preparing for summer.
Address: 120 Old Ocean House Rd. up the dirt road
Time: 2:30-6:30
Snacks provided. Wear old clothes and prepare to get your hands dirty!
We are happy to have you.