Encouraging the active participation of Maine’s minority communities in both urban and rural farming and gardening endeavors can serve as a powerful tool to help them overcome cultural and economic barriers. A significant portion of Maine’s immigrant population arrived with deep-rooted agricultural expertise, shaped by generations of traditional farming practices. However, their migration to Maine often represents a transition from agrarian to urban settings, and they become disconnected from their farming heritage.

My own parents had been engaged in farming and livestock for as long as they could remember, until the devastating drought of 1977 in Somalia forced them to seek opportunities elsewhere within the country. For me, the vibrant Maine summer gardens evoke memories of the bygone days my parents lived through.

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth and can be contacted at noriftin@gmail.com.

Recently, I had the privilege of joining the Cultivating Community and Falmouth Land Trust team on a visit to a century-old barn at Hurricane Valley Farm in Falmouth. While gardening was thriving during the cloudy afternoon, it became evident that there was still ample space for farming, particularly for the local immigrant communities. Despite being a bit of a drive from most immigrant neighborhoods, the farm’s location between Lewiston and Portland is a convenient hub. Their upcoming barn fest on Sept. 17 could present an opportunity for bridging communities from diverse backgrounds.

During the same week as my visit to the Falmouth farm, I connected with a Maine couple at their Ten Apple Farm in Gray. Our gathering under a tent with delicious food that came from their own farm created a unique and welcoming atmosphere where conversations about farming, animals and livestock flowed effortlessly. Unlike many other topics like politics, social structures or sports, which can be challenging for immigrants to engage in due to cultural differences, the discussion resonated universally, transcending language barriers.

Those two visits helped me recognize the need for more inclusive urban and rural agricultural opportunities that can accommodate and embrace immigrants. At the Hurricane Valley Farm and Ten Apple farm I met individuals willing to work with and engage with the immigrant communities on farming and gardening.

While it’s not uncommon to see Maine immigrants working in slaughterhouses or large factories, it’s less frequent to witness their active involvement in community gardens or rural farms. You’ve likely noticed the presence of community gardens scattered throughout southern Maine, producing a variety of vegetables that many immigrants typically purchase from stores, straining their budgets. In contrast, my family in Yarmouth has successfully cultivated nearly everything we need in our backyard, including tomatoes, onions, peas and squash. We have an abundance of produce to sustain us in the coming months. Within immigrant communities, however, there is often a shortage of space or limited access to local farms where they can plant their seeds and reconnect with their agricultural roots. This gap is particularly pronounced for immigrants hailing from countries where farming constitutes a vital component of their economic livelihood.

Incorporating immigrants into Maine’s farming and gardening communities would allow them to rekindle their agricultural heritage, bridge cultural gaps and offer them some economic empowerment. It would also enrich the state’s agricultural diversity, presenting them the opportunity to preserve and share invaluable knowledge in sustainable farming techniques, ultimately enriching Maine’s agricultural landscape.

A more culturally diverse and inclusive farming community is a step toward creating a more inclusive and harmonious society where everyone can contribute to the cultivation of local resources and the growth of vibrant communities.

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