Monday, October 20, 2014

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.


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