By Bonnie Rukin 

This season, Somali Bantu farmers will be growing rice at Liberation Farms in Wales for the first time since they settled in Maine. Muhidin Libah, Executive Director of the Somali Bantu Community Association, and the crew of Liberation Farms have identified a quarter-acre piece of suitably wet land. Ben Rooney, founder of the Maine Rice Project, is providing guidance for the new initiative.  

Upland rice grown in a wet field. The plants are just starting to send out their seed heads. (Late July 2021)

Liberation Farms plans to trial three upland varieties of rice this year. The modest scale of the project will allow the farm community to settle into its new space while starting rice production. The eventual goal is to meet food security needs and also connect community members to a staple food source that holds significant cultural meaning.  

Seedlings were started in high tunnels in April, and planting out will take place in late May or early June, with harvest expected in late September or early October. Farmers will harvest the crop using sickles, save the seeds from the best plants to sow next year, and process the rest for eating. After harvest, they will winnow and hull using equipment from the Maine Grain Alliance and Maine Rice Project.  

Rooney has been growing rice in Maine for about 10 years at a few different locations, in both rice paddies and fields. The Maine Rice Project goal is to get more people growing and eating local, sustainably grown rice and grain throughout the state. The organization runs a tool library, and engages in education and public demonstrations.  

Stay tuned for updates from the Somali Bantu initiative in coming months! 

Photo courtesy of Ararat Farms, current home of Maine Rice Project.