by Bonnie Rukin
Summer in Maine means fresh, local, healthy food from outdoor farmers’ markets. Vendors from several African countries are well represented this year in Portland, Cumberland, Lewiston, Auburn, Lisbon, Bath, Yarmouth, Saco, Damariscotta, and Norway.
In 2009, Cultivating Community adopted the New American Sustainable Agriculture Project (NASAP), and many farmers in that program are now growing vegetables for farmers’ markets.
The organization created Fresh Start Farms and the Kennedy Park farmers’ market on Tuesdays in Lewiston to support African farmers.
Omar Hassan, staff member at the Cooperative Development Institute, is the market manager for New Roots Cooperative of Somali Bantu farmers. He oversees seven farmers’ markets, as well as other outlets for produce. Hassan says one of the most rewarding aspects of the farmers’ markets is the connection between home life and community life – each of the four farmers selling produce is assisted by at least six or seven family members. Farmers sell culturally familiar foods like amaranth and sweet potatoes, as well as more typical Maine summer vegetables like kale and swiss chard.
To maintain equitable sales opportunities for farmers, Muhidin Libah, the Executive Director of Somali Bantu Community Association (SBCA), ensures that Somali Bantu farmers from Liberation Farms sell their produce at different markets than farmers from New Roots Cooperative Farm.
The markets offer great venues for entrepreneurial startups, said Jimmy DiBiasi, Director of Programs at the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets. He said he is also delighted that the markets provide opportunities for the development of meaningful relationships between local, primarily white consumers, and the ever-growing number of farmers from other countries who now provide a colorful diversity of foods and cultures to enhance the lives of all Mainers.