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August 10, 2016

Cooperative farm to be launched by Somali immigrants

New Roots Cooperative Farm, a small farm being started by four Somali Bantu farmers, will be dedicated in Lewiston on Aug. 11.

The 30-acre farm, planned for 954 College St., will be operated by Mohamed Abukar, Batula Ismail, Seynab Ali and Jabril Abdi. Lewiston has a significant population of Somalis.

"We are a new generation of farmers, as New Americans, and we want to bring our farming to a new level," Abukar said in a press release. "We want to develop support from other organizations and people to open the farm in 2017 and provide fresh chemical-free vegetables to schools, hospitals, restaurants and people around the state."

For the past decade, they have farmed in Lisbon on the Packard-Littlefield Farm. They were part of the nonprofit Cultivating Community's New American Sustainable Agriculture Project. In that program, they produced food for CSA customers, schools, food pantries, restaurants and retail locations through the Fresh Start Farms Food Hub.

They received support from Cultivating Community, Cooperative Development Institute, Maine Farmland Trust, Land for Good, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and others.

The farmers received assistance through the USDA's Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program Grant. Cultivating Community hired Maine Farmland Trust to assist in finding suitable farm land. In July, they signed a lease for 30 acres on the former Gendron Farm. They have an option to purchase the property.

The operation will get going in earnest next year. They plan to open a farm stand, offer CSA shares for homes and businesses, and sell produce to institutions, restaurants, stores and food pantries.

Through Barnraiser.us, the farmers are raising money to pay for infrastructure at the new farm.

"Our aim is not only to grow food and run a business ourselves but to help our community and teach them about how to run a business," says New Roots farmer Batula Ismail.

The groundbreaking will be held from 2-4 p.m. on Aug. 11.

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