Harvest party celebrates food, culture

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AUBURN — Organizers of an annual harvest festival aim to expand its reach and involve the wider community in celebrating Somali Bantu culture.

The 4th Annual Somali Bantu Community Harvest Festival at Whiting Farm on Saturday drew hundreds of community members to sample food and listen to live music.

Muhidin D. Libah, executive director of the Somali Bantu Community Mutual Assistance Association, would like to see even more people participate in future celebrations.

“We want to make this an inclusive community event where people can come and eat our food and enjoy our culture,” he said.

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He said organizers are looking for help and ideas from the community to make that happen.

Harvest festivals are traditional in Somalia, he said. “We have harvesting parties all over.”  The bigger the harvest, the bigger the festival, he said. Their fall harvest is the biggest of the year.

In 2014, the Somali Bantu Community Association board suggested organizing a harvest festival, and they’ve had one every year since.

The menu is prepared by volunteers, food is harvested from the farms, and most people either harvest or cook food or help bring it to the site of the festival. Almost everyone in the community helps in some way, Libah said.

“This is the first time seeing a sense of community,” he said. About 153 Somali Bantu families live in Lewiston, Auburn and New Gloucester.

The festival offered an array of traditional Somali food including muffo (African cornbread), kuchambara (tomato salad), mandazi (fried dough) and different types of sambusa (fried and filled dough pockets).

Libah said his favorite dish was the bean soup, which is the one dish he can’t make himself.

In addition to the food there was shareero, traditional Somali Bantu music and dancing. “Whatever instrument you can find, you play,” Libah said. The music is played by both men and woman, and sometimes you can chose a theme such as a festival or a holiday.

Kristina Kalolo has been the quality control and marketing manager for the Somali Bantu Community Association since March.

“Most of the farmers here grow food for their families,” she said, but an increasing number also grow food for markets and food pantries.

She said the Community Farming Program has helped thousands of food-insecure people receive fresh, healthy food through their work with Bates College, St. Joseph’s College, the Portland public school system and four local food pantries.

“It’s great that they can cultivate and share the food they grow with this area,” Kalolo said.

She said the Community Farming Program is possible through a Mainers Feeding Mainers grant from the Good Shepherd Food Bank.

In 2004, the Somali Bantu Community Mutual Assistance Association starting producing food and going to farms.

Farm Manager Hassan Barjin said the program started with about 20 farmers, and now they have plots at three farms in Lewiston, Auburn and New Gloucester with 135 farmers growing a large variety of vegetables.

“Even back home, we were farmers,” Barjin said. “We all have experience, so the first thing we thought about was farming. That’s all we know.”

Women from the Somali Bantu community sing and dance during their annual harvest party at Whiting Farm in Auburn on Saturday. 
Women from the Somali Bantu community sing and dance during their annual harvest party at Whiting farm in Auburn on Saturday. 
Charis Heisey of Auburn and Paul Drowns of Turner watch the dancing and listen to the music being played during the annual Somali Bantu Community Association harvest party at Whiting Farm in Auburn on Saturday. “We are awfully lucky to be here right now,” Heisey said. 

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