By Bonnie Rukin
A visit to Liberation Farms in Wales on a hot day in June revealed high tunnels filled with seedlings almost ready for farmers to transplant into fields; the harvesting of fresh-cut hay bales; the farm’s new market manager Colleen Dollan loading fresh produce for distribution at the organization’s Lewiston office to community members in need; and staff members busy fixing equipment, making phone arrangements for deliveries, and preparing fields. Muhidin Libah, Executive Director of the Somali Bantu Community Association (SBCA), speaking of all the activity, said he was loving the energy and was enthusiastic about summer’s surge of productivity, both at the farm and in ongoing and expanding programs at the SBCA office on Pine Street.
Commitment, resilience, and caring relationships continue to define Liberation Farms, the Somali Bantu farm, which has steadily grown and thrived since its purchase in 2020. Libah noted deepening relationships with other farmers in the region, including haying arrangements with Andy Smith of the Milkhouse Farm and Dairy in nearby Monmouth, and weeding help that Somali Bantu community members gave Seth Kroeck at Crystal Spring Farm in Brunswick – with Kroeck, in turn, lending Libah a disc harrow for short-term use on Liberation Farms. These exchanges especially please Libah, since they reflect the cooperative farmer-to-farmer culture that he knew well in his homeland of Somalia.
Close to 250 community members have growing plots on the farm this summer, up from 220 last year. According to Libah, farming the plots provides positive emotional and physical connections with the land, as well as healthy produce to meet food security and nutritional needs.
Thanks to an agriculture infrastructure improvement grant from the Maine State Department of Agriculture, local contractor Scott Doyon is constructing two buildings for the farm this summer – a large goat barn, and a corn storage and processing facility. And continued success at the farmers markets in Freeport, Norway, and Yarmouth have led to establishment of a fourth market presence this year, this time in Gray. In the African flint corn enterprise, a mill in Massachusetts has now joined Maine Grains and Tortilleria Pachanga as customers.
Another new collaboration, funded by Maine Health Access Foundation, involves an exchange of African flint corn and brown brook trout between Liberation Farms and the Mi’kmaq Nation in Presque Isle. This food collaboration will include a cultural exchange, with elders and other community members from each group visiting each other in the fall.
A notable expansion for SBCA this year is in the Kasheekee program, a culturally based offering for Somali Bantu youth. Through a new relationship with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension 4-H Program, SBCA received a $90,000 grant to hire local high school students to lead groups of children in summer programming at the farm. Libah’s daughter Hawa, who is a staff member at SBCA, was reunited with one of her 4-H program instructors during initial planning meetings for the grant, which deepened the relationship between the two organizations.
Staff changes have taken place at the farm and in the office. Yussuf Ibrahim, whom Libah first knew as a child, then as a staff member at Cultivating Community, is now overseeing various farm activities. Isha Kasai is the new Youth Program Coordinator, as Sahro Hassan steps into a Family and Youth Resource Coordinator position. Colleen Dollan is the new market manager, and Laura Neale, the farm operations manager hired last November, is starting her first season in the field at Liberation Farms.
Liberation Farms has maintained and deepened its community offerings, and SBCA continues to provide inspiration for everyone involved! May plants and people grow well this summer as Liberation Farms maintains and deepens its community offerings and SBCA continues to provide inspiration for everyone involved.