Portland-based Cultivating Community will receive a $750,000 federal grant to continue the work the nonprofit does to help immigrants, many of them from war-torn countries in Africa, become farmers in Maine.

Craig Lapine, executive director of the nonprofit group, said the grant is the largest Cultivating Community has ever received at one time. A 2009 grant, also from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), was critical in funding the work the organization has done to train new farmers and provide them with leased plots at the Packard-Littlefield Farm in Lisbon and in South Portland and Cape Elizabeth.

The training program, funded by USDA’s Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program, is intended to give socially disadvantaged and limited-resource immigrants a means to learn new skills or refresh old ones (many of the new immigrants farmed in their homelands, but Maine’s terrain and climate requires adaptations). And it gives them a means to make at least a modest living. The 2012 Farm Census showed that in Maine, one of the fastest growing farming demographics is black or African-American, and many of those farmers were aided by Cultivating Community.

“This is a deepening of the project,” Lapine said. “This is going to allow us to expand in Cumberland County.”

Because many of the immigrants live in the greater Portland area and don’t have cars, getting to the leased land in Lisbon can be challenging. The goal for the next three years, Lapine said, is to create an integrated site closer to Portland, ideally one much larger than what Cultivating Community has now (in South Portland, several immigrants use a less than 1-acre parcel, for instance). “What we’ve talked about is doing an acre for demonstrations and another 20 acres for the incubator farm model.”

“More young people and women are taking up farming, and new immigrants are adding diversity to our agricultural sector,” U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said in a prepared statement. Pingree is on the Agriculture Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, which sets the budget for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and advocated on behalf of Cultivating Community. “That trend is helping us rebuild and grow our farm economy.”

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