Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

December 23, 2020

Grants to New Roots farmers aimed at tackling systemic racism, COVID-19 challenges

Two Black men and a woman in a hijab stand next to a table piled with produce under a sign that says new roots farm one of the men is talking. Photo / Maureen Milliken Seynab Ali, one of the farmers at New Roots Farm in Lewiston, speaks at an October event at the farm that celebrated cooperative ownership. The farm is one of the few Somali-Bantu cooperative farms in the state and was recently awarded two grants that will help the farmers buy the land they farm on.

Owners of New Roots Cooperative Farm in Lewiston have been awarded two grants aimed at tackling systemic racism in Maine, bringing the farmers closer to their goal of owning the land they farm.

New Roots is a Somali Bantu-led cooperative farm that's been in operation since 2016, and sells produce both wholesale and retail to the Lewiston-Auburn community and in southern Maine. A $50,000 grant from the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation to the farm is part of the foundation’s emergency Twin Pandemic grant program, aimed at the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 and systemic racism have had on Maine’s communities, particularly Black, Indigenous and People of Color.

The farm has also received $30,000 from an anonymous donor-advised fund at the Maine Community Foundation.

“We have invested a lot of effort to make sure that this is a full functioning farmland and we intend to continue doing that," Saynab Ali, a New Roots farmer, said in a news release announcing the grants. "It’s very important for me and my family because we love spending time here and enjoy farming."

Nationally, 1.3% of a total of 3.4 million farmers are Black, according to the U.S Department of Agriculture. Black farmers own 0.52% of America’s farmland.

In Maine, 135 of the state's 7,600 farms are owned by Black residents, according to the USDA. Of those, 135 are owned by Black farmers, with 22 of the farmers owning the land they farm on. Overall, 6,900 of Maine's 7,600 farms are run by farmers who own the land.

New Roots' owners need $200,000 to buy the land the farm is on, improve infrastructure and improve the quality of the soil to make more of its acreage usable, they have said. The two grants bring the total raised to $110,000. Maine Farmland Trust bought the 30 acres on College Street, at the northeast end of Lewiston, in 2016, and New Roots and the trust have an agreement that the farmers will eventually buy the land, and will maintain it in the meantime.

COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color and BIPOC-owned businesses, and New Roots's business model, which relies on farmers markets sales, was disrupted, according to a news release from the farm announcing the grant awards.

To make up for the loss of revenue, the farm — with technical assistance training support from the Cooperative Development Institute — focused on marketing and expanding the Community Supported Agriculture program. As a result, the farm sold out its CSA shares in 2020.

Helping the Lewiston-Auburn community

New Roots farmers say expansion and improvement of the farm will expand the revenue stream, allowing them to increase retail and wholesale produce sales, improve the long-term stability of the farm, and make it more able to support families in need in the community. Lewiston-Auburn is considered one of the most food-insecure areas of the state.

"Every year we are improving and continuing to develop ourselves and every year we are giving out more food to more families," Mohamed Abukar, a New Roots farmer, said. He said that besides selling out the CSA shares, 40% of the farm's products went to food pantries. "Having ownership of the land will help New Roots help others," Abukar said.

The land purchase and farm expansion not only benefits Black and new American farmers in the state, but also helps the Lewiston-Auburn community increase its economic and food security, said Jonah Fertig-Burd, community partner for food systems at the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation.

“Having ownership changes everything for me and for the community I serve,” said Jabril Abdi, one of the New Roots farmers, “It's really an amazing feeling that our kids have a chance to inherit a unique farmland right here. Nothing makes me happier.”

Ali, at an October event at the farm that celebrated the cooperative ownership model said that, ultimately, the farm's goal is to "help people at a higher level."

"We still have dreams. We want to do more," he said. "We want to help the community, and other new Americans, with our farm. We also want to help those looking to farm."

In September, another group of Somali Bantu farmers bought a 104-acre farm in neighboring Wales after a GoFundMe campaign, part of the Somali Bantu Community Association's Liberation Farms program, which assists more than 200 Somali Bantu farmers by providing access to land, seeds, training, technical assistance and marketing.

Little Jubba Central Maine Agrarian Commons has a 99-year equitable rolling lease on the property with the association as the owner. The association bought the farm after raising $367,000 in the online fundraising campaign.

Sign up for Enews


December 23, 2020
I fail to see any so called "systemic racism" here. $50,000 grant from E.B Sewall Foundation, $30,000 from MCF, two grants totaling $110,000 for New Roots, the over 367,000 gofund me successes, show an absolute absence of racism and rather show the generosity of Americans of all stripes. Good luck to the farmers, all of them, irrespective of color origin etc. Articles like this are shameful and need to be audited and corrected. Dudley Gray Rangeley Plt.
Order a PDF