Jabril Abdi waters plants in the New Roots Collective greenhouse in Lewiston on May 26. Two new grants totaling $80,000 have brought the New Roots group closer to being able to purchase the property. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal file Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — Since 2017, a group of African immigrants has leased 30 acres of land off outer College Street to operate a cooperative farm.

Their dream of owning the land they painstakingly developed over the past four years received a major boost when they received word that they are the recipient of two grants totaling $80,000.

With the two gifts, the New Roots Cooperative Farm fundraising goal of raising $200,000 to purchase the property has reached nearly $120,000.

Seynab Ali of Lewiston waters cold-crop seedlings in 2019 at the New Roots Cooperative Farm on College Street in Lewiston. The 30-acre farm produces chemical-free vegetables for sale to the community. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal file

“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.”

New Roots is owned and operated by Abdi, Mohamed Abukar, Batula Ismail and Seynab Ali, all of Lewiston. They are originally from Somalia and moved to Lewiston in the early-2000s. They held a ground-breaking ceremony in August 2016 when they leased 30 acres from the Maine Farmland Trust with an option to buy.

Maine Farmland Trust is a statewide group based in Belfast that  promotes the protection of farmlands and supports farmers.

The land was part of the former Gendron Dairy Farm.

New Roots got its start 10 years before the move to Lewiston, farming land at the Packard-Littlefield Farm in Lisbon as part of the New American Sustainable Agriculture Project. During their time in Lisbon, the members of New Roots adapted their skills learned in Africa to Maine’s climate.

The farm worked with the Cooperative Development Institute to establish the cooperative model and get to the point where they could find their own plot of land to begin farming in 2017.

The Somali Bantu-led farm received a $50,000 grant from the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation as part of  the foundation’s emergency Twin Pandemic grant designed to respond to the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 and systemic racism have had on Maine’s communities.

“New Roots Cooperative Farm is securing farmland for Black, immigrant farmers in Maine, and providing a space for the Somali Bantu community and the whole Lewiston-Auburn community to increase their economic and food security,” says Jonah Fertig-Burd, community partner for food systems at the Sewall Foundation.

According to figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture released in 2019, only 13% of the country’s 3.4 million farmers are Black. They also own 0.52% of America’s farmland.

“The work of New Roots will also help strengthen collective efforts in Sewall’s new Lewiston-Auburn focus area, as part of its Healthy People Healthy Places program,” added Sewall staffer Lauress Lawrence.

The remaining $30,000 grant was received from an anonymous donor-advised fund at the Maine Community Foundation.

In addition to the $80,000 in grants, New Roots has raised nearly $37,000 on its GoFundMe page.

One of the operators of the New Roots Cooperative Farm in Lewiston stands among his crops. Submitted photo

In their plea for funds, they wrote, “We have faced many challenges including not being able to work due to barriers faced by New Americans. We didn’t speak the language or have the education to work a regular job in a society that’s not forgiving for individuals who do not have the technical skills to work in many jobs. This fundraising campaign gives us the opportunity to make our dreams a reality, own land, and finally make a home for ourselves in Maine.”

The $200,000 fundraising goal to own their own farmland would be spent in four areas:

• $87,000 to purchase the land;

• $72,000 to purchase equipment to increase the amount of land they farm, some of which is currently not suitable;

• $15,000 for amendments necessary for long-term sustainability and health  of the soil; and

• $26,000 for infrastructure, including solar, irrigation and storage sheds.

“We have invested a lot of effort to make sure that this is a full functioning farmland, and we intend to continue doing that. It’s very important for me and my family because we love spending time here and enjoy farming,” said Ali.

New Roots’ business model was disrupted this past year because of the coronavirus pandemic, which closed many farmers markets. With help from the Commercial Development Institute, the group expanded its Community Supported Agriculture program where consumers can purchase shares of produce directly from the farm. The program was so successful that New Roots sold all of its CSA shares this year.

The farm hopes to expand the CSA program in 2021.

“Every year we are improving and continuing to develop ourselves and every year we are giving out more food to more families. This year alone we sold out our CSA and more than 40% of our food went to pantries, said Abukar, “And having ownership of the land will help New Roots help others.”


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