Monday, October 20, 2014

Thank you for a great season!

We've enjoyed providing fresh, chemical-free, and perfectly in-season ingredients to your table this season. We hope you and your family have enjoyed participating and we thank you for supporting the farmers in the Fresh Start Farms collective and sustainable food production in Maine.

Wondering how you can maximize your impact as a supporter of local agriculture and Fresh Start Farms? Here are a few ways you can!

Sign up for your 2015 share! Signing up early helps farmers as they do their preseason crop planning over the winter. Email to purchase a share today! (We're in the process of overhauling our entire Cultivating Community webpage where will will once again offer online registration via PayPal. For now, you can pay by check or credit card over the phone-It's still easy to sign up, we promise!).

Expand your own impact by gifting a CSA ​share to you friends and family members this holiday season! Fight those holiday consumer blues knowing you're providing healthy and sustainably-grown food to the ones you love! Email to give a gift share. 

Stay involved with Cultivating Community happenings! By signing up for our newsletter and checking us out on Facebook and Twitter you can not only stay up on news from Cultivating Community, but also find links local, regional, national and global food and agriculture happenings as they pertain to our work.

Know Your Farmers - Mekhan Mumin & Hussein Muktar

In the final week of CSA, we'll profile the final two CSA the farmers who grows your food. Many of you may have already met your CSA farmer either during a farm tour or by visiting with him or her at a farm stand or farmers market. Here is a little bit more about Mekhan and Hussein!

Mekhan Mumin provides CSA shares to staff at  IDEXX Laboratories, Animal Refuge League, and Mercy Hospital. She also provides CSA shares and sells her produce at the Scarborough Farmers' Market on Sundays

In addition to providing CSA shares, Mekhan

 pools her produce with other Fresh Start Farms growers to provide wholesale quantities of vegetables for schools, summer camps, specialty  markets, restaurants, and larger distributors.

From Mekhan - I left Somalia in 1992 and lived in a refugee camp in Kenya from 1992 through 2004. In 2005 I was resettled in Atlanta, Georgia, where I stayed for 4 months before coming to Maine that same year. I joined Fresh Start Farm in 2006 because my friend Hawa was already involved.

I grew up on a farm, and so did my parents, grandparents, their parents and so on. There is no life without farming! We depend on farming for our lives and livelihoods. In Somalia, my farm was large and permanent. Here we don’t have enough land to grow everything we want to grow. Farming is not easy here, especially because you have to feed the soil. In Somalia every year the river brought nutrients to the land.

My dream is to buy a farm and house and have an independent farm business. My favorite part of farming is making money and building a strong business. My kids are now involved in my farm business. They see that I am making money and so they are interested and supportive of this work.

I would like my customers to know that I am an experienced farmer. I am growing all natural, high quality, organic vegetables. I can’t communicate in English well as of yet but I like it when my customers help me at markets, CSA delivery, and low-income CSA deliveries, and Senior Farm Share deliveries. I want my customers to know that we are good people from Somalia. We come from generations of farmers and we came here to start over and contribute our farming skills. We welcome our customers as brothers and sisters and thank them.

There is a saying in my language that you can get buttermilk from a cow and you can get milk from a camel but the camel’s milk will never be buttermilk. What this means in relation to my farming business is that I can go to a market with beautiful vegetables and a very nice display, but if there are no customers, I cannot make a living.
Hussein Muktar provides CSA shares to at Monument Square. Until recently, Hussein also provided CSA shares and sold his produce at the Kennebunk Farmers' Market (Seynab took over Hussein's shares at Kennebunk when Hussein started his college classes).

Like the other growers, Hussein pools his produce with others to provide wholesale quantities of vegetables for schools, summer camps, specialty markets, restaurants, and larger distributors.

Hussein is also a staff member at Cultivating Community. He plays many roles, especially in training and translation support for the other growers in the program.

From Hussein - My name is Hussein Muktar and I am from Somalia. In 1992 I moved with my family to a refugee camp in Kenya. I moved many more times between when I left this refugee camp until I finally found my home in Maine in 2006. That same year, I started being involved with NASAP by helping my mom in her fields and, because my English is very good, I began interpreting for the program. Every 6 months I would sign a new contract for more hours and I became more and more involved. In 2008 I officially joined the program in addition to interpreting.

Farming in Maine is very different than farming in Somalia. Here we have to amend the soil by adding compost and fighting unfamiliar pests and weeds. Most of what we grew in Somalia we cannot grow here and so we continue to improve our skills for growing and preparing local crops.

My favorite parts about having a farm business in Maine is working outside, growing my own food, learning a new culture by selling at markets, learning what Americans like, learning to grow different vegetables every year, and learning a new food system.

My kids are young but they ask everyday if they can go to the farm. They love being outside. I want to encourage them to be involved and learn what they can and to be a part of the business. I tell them stories of how I lived and grew up. I tell them about life in Africa and how different it is from the US. I tell them what they will be in the future. Sometimes I ask if they want to go to Africa. They say “Yes! But there is no food there and we may starve to death”. I tell them it isn't true.

My goals for the future are to expand my business by doing value added products, goats, chickens, and cows. I would like to have one or two good wholesale accounts, go to 1-2 farmers markets, and have my own CSA. Ultimately I would like to buy my own house on a farm. I also want to study English and business and I want to study for an agricultural degree so I can spend the rest of my life as a farmer.

I would like to tell my customers I am transitioning to a new country, which is challenging. Some days I work so hard for so many hours that when I get home I’m too tired to eat, I just go right to sleep. I am working so hard to produce a lot of high quality vegetables so I can afford to survive and take care of my kids.

Producing is the easy part, selling is hard. Even though I speak English, I don’t know the culture of selling here. It is tough to learn this, so we need the customers to come close to us to tell us what they want. We are shy and we have to spend a long time thinking about how to talk to each customer.

There is a saying in my language “If two hands work together, they can do a lot. Only one hand can’t finish the work.” That means we all need support.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Know Your Farmer - Seynab Ali

Each week we profile one of the CSA farmers who grows your food. You can also get to know your farmer by visiting him or her at a farm stand or farmer's market, or by visiting our farm sites during a monthly Friday Farm Tour.

This week your featured farmer is Seynab Ali. Seynab provides CSA shares at McAuley House and at Munjoy Hill. She also sells her produce at the Damariscotta Farmers' Market and the Kennebunk Farmers' Market.

In addition to providing CSA shares, Seynab pools her produce with other Fresh Start Farms growers to provide wholesale quantities of vegetables for schools, summer camps, specialty markets, restaurants, and larger distributors.

From Seynab - I came to the United States in 2004 and started farming with Fresh Start Farms in 2006. I was one of the first members of the program and continue to teach and encourage new farmers. When I arrived in the US, my English was zero. I’ve found that farming is a common language I have with people here in Maine. Although farming is my common language, I have learned new ways to work with this new land and grow in a new climate.

In Somalia, people don’t get trained in farming, they know what farming is, they wait for the rain and 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 I have carried with me here and I continue these traditions. I have become accustomed to many new vegetables here though! Some I grow are beets, arugula, spinach, radishes and lettuce. I eat everything except the radishes.

Another difference is the languages of markets, the way things are sold and what customers expect. In Somalia, we put a couple tomatoes on the table. Here they have to pile the tables high! Though I know countless ways to cook delicious collard recipes (I’m a fantastic cook) I have a hard time communicating my recipes to customers at market. This part of the business is still difficult.

I want my customers to know that my process of farming, though difficult and challenging, is simple without any sprays or pesticides. I start the vegetables in the greenhouse, then at the end of April, we all begin to plant our seedlings in the ground. Everything I sell to my customers is freshly harvested. Everything is grown naturally without chemicals or pesticides, the way it was done in Somalia, and the way it should always be done here.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Know Your Farmer - Jabril Abdi

Jabril in the wash station. (Photo by Greta Rybus)
Each week we profile one of the CSA farmers who grows your food. You can also get to know your farmer by visiting him or her at a farm stand or farmer's market, or by visiting our farm sites during a monthly Friday Farm Tour.

This week your featured farmer is Jabril Abdi. Jabril provides CSA shares for staff at Carbonite and the Dingley Press, as well as at the Pineland YMCA in New Gloucester. He also provides CSA shares at the Kennedy Park Farm Stand (learn more about our farm stands here) in Lewiston.

In addition to providing CSA shares, Jabril sells his produce to St. Mary's Food Pantry in Lewiston. He also pools his produce with other Fresh Start Farms growers to provide wholesale quantities of vegetables for schools, summer camps, specialty markets, restaurants, and larger distributors.

From Jabril - I am originally from Somalia and now live here in Maine.  I've been farming with Fresh Start Farms since 2006.

I have been farming my whole life and I will always be a farmer. If anybody says that small farms and farmers like us are not important they are wrong, and they will know that when their stomachs are empty.

Jabril in his cornfield. (Photo by Greta Rybus) 
When I moved to Lewiston and learned about Fresh Start Farms, it only seemed natural to start planting seeds myself. The soil here is more consistent than it is in Somalia where it is varied in places from red to white to brown. And, though I’m used to selling my products, here is different. Here you put everything out on the table and you have to advertise for yourself instead of just letting your product speak for you. Fortunately my children help with my marketing.

I don’t have one favorite part of this work—it’s all important. My favorite things to grow are lettuce, spinach, broccoli, potatoes, tomatoes, though most of these are new crops to me here. These are what customers expect and if I don’t have them, customers don’t come to my stand.

I am happy to be at the market selling, it means that my investment is working when people are lining up to support me. If my customers come to my farm, I know they will be happy with what they see—my growing practices that keep the soil rich and my plants strong.

I would love it if my customers would tell their friends about me, and about Fresh Start Farms. Let people support us, because we are evidence that even if you have nothing, you can still put seeds into the ground.

Recycling your green CSA bags

Many members have asked me how they can recycle their plastic CSA bags for next year and with wholesale slowing down a bit, I've finally taken a minute to think this through. Here are a few ways to recycle your bags depending on where you pick up your share:

*Please make sure your bags are clean and dry before returning them. Thank you!

If you attend a farm stand or farmers' market - feel free to bring your bags back to your farmer (this is an easy one :).

If you pick up at an office delivery site - you or your site coordinator can collect bags from all members wishing to return them at your site. Once bags have been collected, give me a call and we'll come get them.

If you pick up at the Portland YMCA - Please drop your bags off at the Cultivating Community office in Kennedy Park. We are at 52 Mayo St., Portland on the left when you are coming down the hill. You will see our green sign.

If you pick up at the Pineland YMCA - Please bring your bags to Maggie/the front desk next week when you come to pick up your CSA share (sorry, you will have to keep bags from the final week :).

If you pick up at Munjoy Hill - I live right next door at 79 Congress St. If facing Elizabeth's house, my apartment is on the right down the little driveway set back (white duplex with black shutters). You can place bags on the little porch/entry way.

If you pick up at Longfellow Books - I come and pick up unclaimed shares at the end of the day. Please leave your bags neatly folded in the CSA area and I will grab them.

You can always drop off bags at Cultivating Community's office if that is most convenient. We are located on the left as you come down the hill at 52 Mayo St. in Portland's Kennedy Park neighborhood. At least one person will be at the office consistently between 9:00 and 4:00 Monday through Thursday.

Thank you!

Member-to-Member Culinary Share

One of our Monument Square CSA members emailed me the following:

Just wanted to let you know I am making a vegetable curry with dal [lentils] using the squash, potatoes, onions, and cilantro, cooking right now in the slow cooker!

This recipe idea is short and sweet and made my mouth water. It also inspired me to get out my crock pot/slow cooker to make some hardy soups and stews.

A quick Google search yields almost an overwhelming number of slow cooker recipes. Here is one that looks yummy and could be easily modified to fit your CSA veggies. Don't forget the celeriac! I often substitute this for celery and in my humble opinion, it adds great flavor to pretty much any soup or stew. Did I mention I'm a huge celeriac fan?

This recipe is one of many from at in case you want to check out more slow cooker ideas.

Chard, Lentil & Potato Slow Cooker Soup
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 8 hours
Total Time: 8 hours, 20 minutes
Yield: 6
Chard, Lentil & Potato Slow Cooker Soup
A hearty fall soup adapted from Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker's Lentil Soup with Ribbons of Kale.
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, sliced
  • 1 large carrot, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large bunch Swiss chard, leaves torn into bite-sized pieces and stems sliced
  • 1 c. dried brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 6 c. vegetable broth
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce or tamari
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, celery, carrot, garlic, and stems from Swiss chard. Cover and cook until softened, about 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add cooked vegetable mixture, lentils, potatoes, broth, and soy sauce in a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker. Stir to combine, cover, and cook on low heat for 8 hours.
  3. Just before soup is finished cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Place reserved chard leaves in boiling water and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain well and stir into soup. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
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