By Bonnie Rukin

Federal funding through SNAP/EBT and WIC programs, together with support from Cultivating Community (CC) and other partnering organizations, has resulted in a notable increase in sales of produce, which means improvements in food security among Somali Bantu, Angolan, Sudanese, and Congolese families in Maine.  

            Sandy Alles, CC’s Director of Farm Sales for the past six years, noted a $20,000 increase this year in sales to SNAP/EBT customers, and close to a $12,000 increase in WIC sales, which make up a large percentage of farmstand sales. Farmers sold roughly 43,000 pounds of vegetables with the help of these programs!

            CC farmer Omasombo Katuka expressed gratitude to the U.S. government for its support of the community through benefits that can be spent at farm stands. His customers are so happy with his produce that they want him to keep growing vegetables year round. He easily could grow more, he said, and is sure his customers would buy all he could bring to market because so many family members and friends are in need. But he doesn’t have enough land. “I could have 20 beds planted in African eggplant and sell the whole crop!” he declared.

Working at the market stand Photo | Sandy Alles

            Asli Hassan, a Somali Bantu farmer from Lewiston, is delighted by the WIC/SNAP-related increase in sales this year. Her customers often place orders a week before market day so they are assured of the African vegetables that are important to them. Wholesale customer accounts for African vegetables have increased this year, including Maine Health, and more individuals are buying, as well. Two of Hassan’s 10 children help her prepare for the market and assist with customer transactions. She hopes to extend the growing season by using high tunnels. Like Katuka, she said her food production is limited by acreage, she said.

Cultivating Community has been an organizational leader in this work for decades, through its New American Sustainable Agriculture Project and development of farm stands. Opportunity Alliance is also a long-time partnering organization. This year staff from both organizations provided technical assistance to help farmers with the digital process required by WIC during transactions. The technical assistance significantly streamlined market operations.

Farmer Omasombo Katuka Photo| Ian MacLellan

            The consistent, long-term presence of farm stands in specific neighborhoods may have contributed to increased sales and customer connections. In addition to established Portland markets at Opportunity Alliance, Westbrook Pointe apartments and Riverton Park, the Kennedy Park market in Lewiston attracted a large customer base.

Photo | Greta Rybus
Asli Hassan photo| Ian MacLellan

            Both of these farmers would appreciate any help from Amjambo readers in finding land. Asli Hassan is hoping to find 10-15 acres near Lewiston/Auburn, and Omasombo Katuka would like enough additional land to be able to grow enough to serve markets in New Hampshire and perhaps even Boston.

            Please contact Sandy Alles at Cultivating Community with any leads or creative ideas: [email protected]; (207) 761-4769, x808.