NEW GLOUCESTER — A soft breeze brought sway to dancing lines of tall corn ready to harvest at the Intervale Farm along Route 231, marking the seasonal bounty celebration of five months of intense farming labor from members of the Somali Bantu community of Lewiston.
Saturday marked the Harvest Festival at the former pumpkin farm where 3.3 acres were leased to the Somali Bantu Community Association of Maine to serve 39 families on 36 plots this first year of the project’s New Gloucester operation.
In celebration, traditional dancers and music formed the backdrop for those who came to share the chance to see how hard work can bring success and joy to many.
With a $20,000 budget, Muhadin Libah, executive director of the Somali Bantu Community Association of Maine said the project has been an overwhelming success. His organization, a nonprofit, helps refugees transition to life in Maine.
“We started with zero dollars and now have a budget of $20,000,” he said Saturday between setting up an eating station and organizing volunteers for the Harvest Festival. Donations are needed to move the projects ahead in the future.
Jan Wilcox, who operates the farm with her husband, Carlton, said, “It’s beyond good. I’m glad I could be part of something special.” The couple decided to close their pumpkin operation and instead found the need for farmland by the Somali community something that they couldn’t refuse.
Harriet McGregor of New Gloucester added, “This is an example of doing well by doing good.”
A traditional Somali menu of food was offered as part of the Harvest Festival.
Habiba Salat of Lewiston said she farms two plots to feed her family. Corn, beans, tomatoes, carrots, onions, cucumbers and eggplant have thrived this year and the bounty of the harvest has moved beyond expectation.
Last May, plot recipients were given seedlings to plant, using traditional methods with hand tools and no pesticides. For the gardeners, this brought reconnection to the past as they resumed their skills and knowledge of the land with heart and hard labor.
The Somali Bantu fled Somalia from a brutal civil war, arriving in America as refugees in the early 2000s. Traditionally farmers, the community members who live in Lewiston brought themselves back to the earth to recapture their roots to practice traditional farming as they had in bygone days as farmers in Somalia.