LEWISTON — A groundbreaking celebration for a new farm will be held Thursday, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the farm at 954 College St.
New Roots Cooperative Farm will be the first cooperative farm in Maine to be owned and operated by new Americans, according to a news release from Jonah Fertig of the Cooperative Development Institute.
Everyone is invited, especially those who care about small farms and local food.
The New Roots Cooperative Farm is on 30 acres where the Gendron dairy farm was for years. The farmer-owners are Mohamed Abukar, Batula Ismail, Seynab Ali and Jabril Abdi, all of Lewiston. They are originally from Somalia and moved to Lewiston in the mid-2000s.
The cooperative farm will be structured as a producer cooperative in which each farmer owns a share of the business and works in marketing, distribution, equipment and land.
The Cooperative Development Institute has worked with New Roots for the past year and a half.
“New Roots Cooperative Farm is a model for their community and the state about how to use a cooperative business structure to increase access to land and markets for farmers,” Fertig said in a news release. “Their cooperative is creating greater economic opportunity for new Americans and increasing food access in southern Maine.”
For the past 10 years, the men farmed with Cultivating Community’s New American Sustainable Agriculture Project at Packard-Littlefield Farm in Lisbon.
Through their new farm, they’ll create a permanent farm while providing healthy food to the community, creating jobs and preserving working farmland in Lewiston, Fertig said.
Abukar said he wants to bring their farming to a new level.
To own the farm, they received help from several agencies, including Cultivating Community, Cooperative Development Institute, Maine Farmland Trust, Land for Good, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and others.
“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,” Abukar said.
“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,” farmer Ismail said.
During their years with Cultivating Community, the members of New Roots adapted their farming skills to Maine. Each grew and sold more than 40 vegetables every season to regional farmers markets and to community-supported agriculture customers, as well as schools, food pantries, restaurants and retail locations through the Fresh Start Farms Food Hub.
“The farmers in New Roots have worked very hard over the years to reach this point in their journey,” said Cultivating Community’s Sarah Marshall. “It is exciting and empowering to watch your dreams become reality, and this group of farmers has dreamed of running their own farms in Maine since they arrived, some moving to Maine specifically to do so.”
With help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cultivating Community hired Maine Farmland Trust to help with a search for farmland in the Lewiston area.
Maine Farmland Trust was able to acquire the former Gendron farm in January. On July 14, New Roots signed a lease with an option to buy the property from the trust.
In 2017, New Roots Cooperative Farm will move its farming operation from Lisbon to Lewiston. It plans to open a farm stand, offer personal and workplace CSAs, sell wholesale to institutions, restaurants, stores and food pantries and to continue to provide vegetables to its customers at farmers markets.
Hussein Muktar, a technical adviser to the new farm, said in the Somali culture they have a saying: “With one finger you cannot wash your face, but with a whole hand you can wash your face,” he said. “By working together, we can accomplish more and grow more food for our community.”
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/newrootscooperativefarm.
What: Groundbreaking ceremony for New Roots Cooperative Farm will include food, music and prayers for the new land. Everyone is invited.
Where: 954 College St., Lewiston (formerly Gendron dairy farm).
When: 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 11.