August 3, 2011

Soup to Nuts: Planting seeds
in Maine for African heritage

The work of immigrants in the Center for African Heritage garden project is producing food security and the promise of future farming enterprises.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

FALMOUTH — Boulis Kodi treads lightly through a thriving garden patch, showing off a summer's worth of hard work by Nuba Mountain refugees from Sudan.

click image to enlarge

Boulis Kodi manages the Center for African Heritage garden project at Tidewater Farm in Falmouth. A refugee from Sudan who has served as a linguist in Iraq for the U.S. Army, Kodi says the project is really a test for those who are committed in the future to where we re heading, to something huge.

Photos by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Boulis Kodi checks the gardens at Tidewater Farm to make sure the groups who have plots assigned to them are weeding and tending their crops.

Additional Photos Below


WHAT: The Center for African Heritage, along with Falmouth Community Programs, presents an evening of music, entertainment and a mini-farmers' market selling produce from the center's community garden at Tidewater Farm. There will be traditional African dancers, drumming and the music of Mystic Vibes, a six-piece original roots reggae band from Portland.

WHEN: 6 to 7 p.m. Aug. 22

WHERE: Village Park Gazebo (behind Walmart) in Falmouth


WHAT ELSE: Bring your own picnics, blankets and lawn chairs. In case of questionable weather, call the cancellation line at 781-5253.

INFO: To learn more about the garden project and the Center for African Heritage, go online to


"This is the sweet corn, and this is the tomatoes over here," said Kodi, who is the farm manager for the Center for African Heritage garden project at Tidewater Farm, just down the road from the University of Maine Regional Learning Center.

He points to some greens that look as if they could be thrown right into a salad.

"This one that you see here, it's an African (herb) just like spinach, but we use it for the soup," Kodi said. "The taste is very good, and it's (high in iron.)"

These plots, on nearly three acres, are being leased from the Tidewater Conservation Foundation by nonprofit groups representing African immigrants and refugees so families can grow their own food and become more self-sufficient.

The project also is growing food for the Portland public schools in gardens that are filled with tomatoes, cucumbers, Swiss chard and zucchini. Another garden will provide produce for food banks.

"Part of what we're trying to do is really address food security and good, healthy food," said Dawud Ummah, president of the Center for African Heritage. "You can secure the food by buying a bunch of junk, or you can secure the food by producing good healthy food, and that's how we would like to engage in it."

The Tidewater gardens are an experiment of sorts. Ummah and Kodi are watching closely to see which groups are truly committed to producing successful gardens. The idea is that eventually the plots will move to a larger site somewhere else in southern Maine, where they could be expanded and feed more people.

But before the project reaches that level, Ummah and Kodi want to make sure the farmers are serious. They watch to see how often the gardens are tended, and they notice when there are more weeds than there should be.

"This spot is really a test for those who are committed in the future to where we're heading, to something huge," Kodi said.

Kodi points to a scruffy-looking, obviously neglected plot full of weeds. The group that was supposed to farm this plot has not come through, and the opportunity has been wasted.

"They said they were going to occupy this space, but unfortunately they didn't show up," Kodi said.

Next to that plot is a beautiful garden planted and tended by the Somali Bantu. This group comes at least twice a week to tend its tomatoes, spinach and other produce.

"Our goal is to grow food for our own families, to make sure we do not depend on food stamps any more," said Muhidin Libah of Lewiston.

If this project works out, Somali Bantu would like to lease a larger piece of land in the Lewiston area for farming.

Libah said he and Mohamed Farah, as organizers of their group's garden, have had to convince some families that putting their time and effort into the project will be worth it.

"Back home in Somalia, we had a little bit of problem because when we harvest our crops, the value of everything goes down," Libah said. "When it's time for planting, the value of crops go up. We had difficult time just putting food on the table. People who are not educated think that here it's the same way."

The Somali Bantu group has designated a small part of their garden for feeding Haitian orphans. The produce they grow will be sold and the money given to the Sacred Heart Church/St. Dominic Parish on Mellen Street for its Haiti Project.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Dawud Ummah, president of the Center for African Heritage, explains how the Tidewater Farm project works. Immigrant and refugee families who grow food here, for themselves and sometimes for others, may graduate to larger farm plots somewhere else in southern Maine.


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