U.S. Sen. Angus King, middle left, talks with staff and farmers Tuesday afternoon at Liberation Farms under the large pavilion at the community farm in Wales. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

WALES — As the first seedlings began to spread their roots at the Somali Bantu Community Association’s Liberation Farms on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Angus King stopped by to see how things were going.

The two-term Maine independent came away impressed.

“I like this on every level — the food, getting back to the land and the community,” King said.

Muhidin Libah, executive director of the association that oversees the farm, told the senator about the Somali community farmers who created it and have nurtured its growth for years.

Since 2021, its focus has been on a 103-acre farm on Gardiner Road where more than 200 farmers grow a wide range of produce for personal consumption and to sell at farmers markets and to buyers like the Mainers Feeding Mainers program run by the Good Shepherd Food Bank.

Libah said it had been hard before Cultivating Community and his association’s Liberation Farms offered the Somali community a way to farm for themselves.

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Founded in 2001, Cultivating Community is building a movement through programs that provide joyful outdoor educational experiences, fresh culturally important foods grown by and for immigrants and communities of color, and community growing spaces.

U.S. Sen. Angus King, left, talks Tuesday with Muhidin Libah, executive director of Somali Bantu Community Association, as they pet goats at Liberation Farms in Wales. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Libah and some of the farmers took King around to see their 19 goats, a new halal slaughter station and the fields dotted with fresh seedlings for everything from Swiss chard to cucumbers.

“Our people are expert farmers,” Libah said.

“You’ve got the right idea at the right time with the right people,” King told them.

He said he was glad to see small farms beginning to flourish again across Maine.

The number of small farms — those less than 10 acres — has risen by about 50% since 1997, according to U.S. Census data. It has slipped a little, though, during the past seven years.

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Because the average Maine farmer is 57.5 years old, King said he is glad to see younger people getting into farming as well.

U.S. Sen. Angus King, left, talks Tuesday with Muhidin Libah, executive director of Somali Bantu Community Association, as he admires the large pavilion they were sitting under. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The senator said the variety of produce has grown. It used to be “all potatoes and blueberries,” King said, but now farms churn out a lot more, including more than a million cases of broccoli shipped out of state last year.

King was also glad to learn that some federal grants had helped Liberation Farms prosper.

Federal government successes, he said, are “not something you hear much about.”

As he left, King wished the farmers well.

“Save some red cabbage for me,” the senator said.

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