LEWISTON — The public is invited to a groundbreaking ceremony for New Roots Cooperative Farm from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 11.
There will be several speakers, as well as food and music.
The 30-acre farm on College Street will be the first new American cooperative farm in the state. Its four owners — Mohamed Abukar, Batula Ismail, Seynab Ali and Jabril Abdi — are originally from Somalia.
For the past 10 years, they have farmed with Cultivating Community’s New American Sustainable Agriculture Project at Packard-Littlefield Farm in Lisbon. Through New Roots Cooperative Farm, they will create a permanent home for their farm businesses while also providing healthy food to the community and preserving working farmland in Lewiston.
“We are a new generation of farmers as new Americans, and we want to bring our farming to a new level,” Abukar said. “We have received support from Cultivating Community, Cooperative Development Institute, Maine Farmland Trust, Land for Good, the USDA and others to get to the point where we are. 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.”
During their years with Cultivating Community, members of New Roots adapted their farming skills to Maine. They each grew more than 40 vegetables every growing season and sold them to regional farmer’s markets, as well as to schools, food pantries, restaurants and retail locations through the Fresh Start Farms Food Hub.
With help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, through a Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program grant, Cultivating Community hired Maine Farmland Trust to assist these farmers with a customized land search in the Lewiston area. MFT was able to acquire 30 acres of the former Gendron Farm through the Buy/Protect/Sell Program in January 2016.
On July 14, New Roots signed a lease with an option to purchase the property from MFT.
Land for Good helped the farmers learn about land tenure arrangements and assisted them in determining what they needed for new farmland. During the farmers’ land search, Land For Good worked with farmland owners to help establish relationships with the farmers.
New Roots Cooperative Farm is structured as a producer cooperative where each farmer owns a share of the business, and all share marketing, distribution, equipment and land. The Cooperative Development Institute assisted in developing the cooperative structure and helping the farmers develop their business plans.
New Roots Cooperative Farm will move its farming operation from Lisbon to Lewiston in 2017 and will open a farm stand, offer personal and workplace community-supported agriculture, provide wholesale to institutions, restaurants, stores and food pantries and will continue to provide vegetables to their customers at farmers markets.
“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,” Ali said.