Osman Hassan and Habibo Salad bunch together radishes Thursday at Whiting Farm in Auburn as part of the Somali Bantu Community Association’s Liberation Farms community farming project. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

A successful September harvest is reason enough for Liberation Farms to celebrate, but a wildly successful crowdfunding campaign that will help the community farming program purchase a 104-acre farm in Wales will make the fruits of their labor seem extra sweet for central Maine Somali Bantus.

The Somali Bantu Community Association has raised the last $367,000 needed to purchase the organic farm for $430,000 by the end of September and expand its Liberation Farms program that helps members support themselves or sell locally through sustainable farming.

But the land purchase isn’t just about producing vegetables, fruit and flint corn, according to Kristina Kalolo, markets manager for Liberation Farms. It will also serve as a cultural center and community gathering spot for Bantu refugees from Somalia, a minority group with about 3,000 members in the Lewiston-Auburn area.

The purchase includes buildings that could serve as office space and perhaps a commercial kitchen space or farm stand, Kalolo said. In addition to farming, the land could host community events, school field trips, weddings, Eid celebrations or a family picnic.

“We’re very excited about the potential for the land and the endless possibilities for the space,” Kalolo said.

Founded in 2005, the association provides advocacy and services for the Somali Bantu refugees. An affiliated nonprofit trust, the Little Jubba Central Maine Agrarian Commons, helps secure farmland tenure for generations of Somali Bantus.

The association’s Liberation Farms community farming program helps provide new Mainers access to culturally appropriate resources for the means of sustainable food production for themselves, their families and their communities. It also provides a safe place for them to practice one of the most important aspects of Bantu culture, farming.

Liberation Farms started in 2014 with 20 farmers. That number has grown to over 200 since, with farmers working family plots or small cooperatives tilling three-acre commercial plots in Auburn, Lewiston, New Gloucester and Yarmouth as well as goat herds in Greene and Lisbon.

Farmers decide what they want to grow and do all of the work from cultivation to harvest, while Liberation Farms provides support such as ensuring access to irrigation and water, tools, seeds and seedlings.

Kalolo said farm managers estimate that each one-tenth-acre family plot feeds 16 to 24 people, many of them children. The self-organized commercial farmers, or Iskashito farmers, also thrive from their combined efforts selling their produce at local farmers markets and stands.

Muhidin Libah harvests carrots Thursday at Whiting Farm in Auburn. He takes part in the Somali Bantu Community Association Liberation Farms community farming project. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Liberation Farms only has short-term leases to use the land its members currently farm, and that limits how much it is able to invest in infrastructure, Kalolo said. So after laying the groundwork for several years, it launched a fundraising campaign two months ago with hopes of reaching its goal by December. It announced it had reached the goal on Aug. 24.

Two-thirds of donations were from individual Mainers, who donated an average $140 each to provide 38% of the funds. Over 70 agriculture-related businesses, as well as organizations such as the Maine Organic Farming and Gardening Association, also donated money and provided resources.

Kalolo said the association was grateful for the “overwhelming” support during the campaign, which she attributed to people wanting to reach out to help in the age of COVID-19 and racial justice movements.

“We’ve seen a tremendous outpouring of support and interest from people since we’ve seen an acceleration in attention to and support for the Black Lives Matter movement,” she said.

“We’re far ahead of schedule, but there’s still a lot of work to do,” Kalolo said.

Agrarian Land Trust, the nonprofit parent corporation of Little Jubba Central Maine Agrarian Commons, continues to raise money for the project. It includes $52,000 needed for farm planning and investment in the soil and ecosystem, as well as about $200,000 to pay off the debt service. The Maine Farmland Trust has provided an initial $80,000 for the acquisition of a conservation easement on the land that will protect the farmland soils, waterways, forest land and habitats in perpetuity.

“We hope people will continue to stay invested in helping us open up a world of opportunities for the Somali Bantu community,” Kalolo said. “We still have a significant amount of money we need to fund raise in order to complete it.”

Persons interested in donating can go to the Agrarian Trust website at http://agrariantrust.org/agrariancommons/little-jubba.


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