By Bonnie Rukin
On January 20, the four farmers of New Roots Cooperative Farm in Lewiston – Jabril Abdi, Mohamed Abukar, Batula Ismail, and Seynab Ali – signed a purchase and sales agreement for a 30-acre farm in Lewiston. New Roots Cooperative Farm is the first immigrant-owned co-op in Maine. New Roots offers Community Sponsored Agriculture shares (CSAs), wholesale purchasing, provides ingredients for the Isuken food truck, as well as vegetables for food pantries and at farmer’s markets.The purchase of the former dairy farm has been a long-held dream for the farmers.
“I can finally say I have gotten what I have always dreamed of as a farmer. I get to own a farm – I did not know that was possible!” said Batula Ismail, one of the farm owners.
The farmers have been working with the Cooperative Development Institute (CDI) and Maine Farmland Trust (MFT) over a period of years to make the purchase possible. Maine Farmland Trust bought the farm in 2015, and entered into a lease agreement with the farmers that included the option to purchase, and CDI’s Omar Hassan has supported the farmers since 2014 with business start up and direct technical advising, cooperative development, and market coordination.
Omar Hassan said, “I have watched this group of farmers grow, develop and go towards becoming a self-sufficient cooperative … they are more passionate and driven than any farmers I have worked with, and the local communities have become reliant on them in the fight against food insecurity … Honestly, this right here is a milestone for the New American Community.”
Recently, CDI added support forNew Roots’ fundraising efforts, which included a Go Fund Me page that raised over $150,000 from more than 500 donations. And in early January, MFT awarded the farm a competitive grant of $50,000 to implement an updated business plan. Such implementation grants are awarded to farms that have successfully completed MFT’s Farming for Wholesale business planning program. The grant will enable New Roots to address production and distribution challenges by investing in more efficient and larger-scaled equipment, improving the soil, and constructing a cold storage facility. Mohamed Sheikh recently joined the New Roots staff to take on the role of managing market needs for the farmers. He said, “I just want to say ‘thank you, thank you!’ for all the support from everyone who helped make the New Roots farmers’ dreams come true.”
“My heart is really filled with gratitude. Now I can see a better future for my community. Thank you so much!”