KENNEBUNKPORT — As I write this, 250 African migrants are being temporarily housed in a basketball gymnasium in Portland. These asylum-seeking refugees are primarily from Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo and are here to escape violence and persecution in their home countries.

Their individual and collective fates remain uncertain, as Portland and other communities grapple with how to immediately feed and house and care for them, and how to ultimately integrate them successfully into American society and Maine life despite deeply anti-immigration sentiments fueled largely by our president and his administration.

Fortunately, these brave new arrivals have some good assimilation role models right here in Maine. They also come from Africa, and they are the new American faces of the green revolution. Some background and context:

A revolution is afoot that goes by many names, including “green,” “local,” “organic,” “farm-to-table” and “back to the Earth.” And some of the leaders in this “green revolution” are the thousands of farmers who participate in farmers markets in Maine and across the country.

Maine has the most farmland in New England, and a growing number of farmers growing fruits and vegetables year-round. Farmers markets have become a real part of the Maine economy, as more and more consumers demand natural, local and organic food. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, what was once a niche shopping experience for the wealthy and ultra-health conscious has become mainstream, depicting a rising consciousness among consumers who are concerned with not just what they eat, but also how and where it is produced. They want fresh, local, clean food.

The Portland Farmers’ Market is one of the oldest in the country, dating back to 1768. My local farmers market was created in 1993. For many years, going to our farmers market was part of my wife’s and my Saturday morning routine, from early May through mid-November. We would go out to breakfast, then hit the market. A few years ago, we began sharing a community-supported agriculture farm share with friends. We purchased our CSA from the New Roots Cooperative Farm in Lewiston, founded by four Somali Bantu refugees.


For me, these Somali farmers represent the truer story of American immigration. These are not the stereotypical drug runners or murderous gang bangers. These are brave, hardworking, industrious people who fled their native country to escape its long and bloody civil war. They met in refugee camps where they lived for 14 years before coming to the U.S., and to Maine. Once here, they were determined to forge their futures farming, together, on new soil.

Not only are these immigrants not trying to rob, rape or murder us, they are growing bountiful, healthy, delicious food to sustain us. When I turn on the TV and watch our president rant and rave about all the immigrants who are supposedly swarming over our borders to destroy our way of life, in my mind I see the faces of these Somali farmers, who are here to build a new community around farming and to create jobs. Aren’t these exactly the kind of immigrants we want here, the kind of people who make America great (again)?

Today these migrants are making the most of their cooperative farming opportunity. They have expanded their successful vegetable gardens and begun raising chickens and goats. They sell their produce at six farmers markets in midcoast and southern Maine. And they are, by my estimation, the very definition of the American success story.

Maine’s farmers markets are models of industry and a reflection of our growing diversity. They are the 21st-century version of the public square, where, in addition to purchasing healthy local food and related products, residents and tourists gather to chat, gossip, share recipes, walk their dogs, entertain their kids, listen to music and just hang out.

I can’t think of a better place to be, or better group of people to know. Maine’s Somali farmers inspire me, and I hope they will be an inspiration for our newest arrivals. The bounty of America is sown not only in its fields, but also in its capacity for new cultural crops to take root, grow and feed our republic.

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