LITTLE JUBBA CENTRAL MAINE AGRARIAN COMMONS
Local Agrarian Commons Board
Somali Bantu Community Association of Maine: Muhidin Libah, Lana Cannon Dracup
Gamana A. Yarow
Sahal A. Jimale
Ashley Bahlkow, Somali Bantu Community Association of Maine
BCM Environmental & Land Law, Attorney
The Little Jubba Central Maine Agrarian Commons is organized and shall be operated exclusively for the purpose of holding title to property, collecting income therefrom, and turning the entire amount, less expenses to the AGRARIAN LAND TRUST within the meaning of Section 501(c)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (the “Code”). Agrarian Land Trust, the parent corporation of Little Jubba Central Maine Agrarian Commons, is a California nonprofit public benefit corporation exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(a) and described in Section 501(c)(3) of the Code.
SNAPSHOT OF MAINE AGRICULTURE & SOMALI BANTU CONTEXT
The Little Jubba Central Maine Agrarian Commons encompasses five counties: Androscoggin, Cumberland, Oxford, Sagadahoc, and Kennebec. This region was chosen for the Little Jubba Central Maine Agrarian Commons because Lewiston–Auburn, twin cities built along opposite banks of the Androscoggin River, is central to this region, and home to the Somali Bantu Community Association (SBCA), a central partner in the development of this Agrarian Commons. Lewiston-Auburn totals 101 square miles and is home to about 60,000 residents, accounting for roughly 60 percent of the county’s population.
Nationwide, American farmers are struggling to hold onto their livelihoods. The lack of sufficient or adequate federal support creates prohibitive barriers for new farmers who are trying to start small. Farmers from socially disadvantaged groups – African-American, Latinx, Native American, women, immigrants, LGBTQ+ – face an even longer list of barriers, including structural socio-economic inequalities and a history of discrimination in credit markets, state and federal farm programs, and real estate.
This is the context in which the Somali Bantu Community Association’s (SBCA) Liberation Farms Program exists. The program, created to provide land access, food security and connection to this Somali Bantu community’s cultural roots as generational farmers, has operated since 2014. In that time, interest and participation in the program has skyrocketed to six-times the initial participants farming on 30+ acres of land in three locations as of 2020. Despite community excitement and growth, the SBCA has lost access to three of its six land leases over the past six years. This has meant moving farm operations every other year since the program’s inception. Liberation Farms will once again lose access to one of its three land sites at the end of 2020 and a second lease will not be renewed ending in 2022.
While the community of farmers continues to express their extreme gratitude for current land access, these short-term leases have proven problematic and threatened food production these farmers have come to depend upon. Short-term leases have prevented Liberation Farms from expanding and improving operations and infrastructure to match increasing market opportunities and the community’s increasing demand for storing and processing locally-grown and culturally significant foods for year-round consumption.
Forming an Agrarian Commons offers Liberation Farms the opportunity for long-standing farmland access that is affordable for this small, grassroots community organization. This organization would otherwise struggle to finance land through traditional channels that are rooted in a history of discrimination and that continue to prove discriminatory to the present day. While this land access is the epitome of food security for this community, it also means Liberation Farmers can expand production capacity to meet growing market demand for local produce. This includes providing food for local food pantries and public schools that the Liberation Farms’ growers sell to.
Land Acknowledgement & Commitment
The Agrarian Commons acknowledges that it is located on the ancestral, occupied, and, in many cases, unceded land of Indigenous people. In acknowledging this legacy of genocide and theft, we are in turn committed to supporting Indigenous sovereignty.
Food Security & Hunger
Maine has the 7th highest rate of hunger in the nation (USDA) and the highest rate of child food insecurity in New England. As of 2019, 13.6 percent of Maine residents are food insecure, including 6.4 percent who are experiencing very low food security.
Framing Food Security and Hunger in the Little Jubba Central Maine Agrarian Commons
For the Somali Bantu Community Association (SBCA) food security is inherently tied to land security, hence the reason SBCA started this land search. Since 180+ farmers in the Liberation Farms program can grow their own, culturally preferred foods, they have enhanced food security via better control of the source of their food. That being said, leasing land on a short term basis had proven challenging for many reasons, notably the inability to make long term investments on infrastructure and the lack of long term security of sustained access, which significantly threatens food security and would be a major loss for the 180+ families growing on this land. The Agrarian Commons model is an example of working to counter the food insecurity that exists in the region by securing land for farmers to directly improve their food security.
Maine Farmland Facts
Amount of Farmland: 1,307,613 acres (5 percent of total land area)
Acres Farmed Organically: 52,304 (4 percent of Maine farmland)
Total Number of Farms: 7,600
Number of Farm Operators/Producers: 13,414
- Average Age: 58
- Beginning farmers: 4,398
- Farmers of color: 452
- White farmers: 13,086
- American Indian or Alaska Native farmers: 39
- Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish Origin farmers: 124
- Black farmers: 146
- Asian farmers: 33
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander farmers: 8
- Female farmers: 5,859
- Male farmers: 7,555
Farmland Loss: 146,491 acres (2012-2017; 10 percent of Maine farmland)
Average Farm Real Estate Value: $2,410/acre
Farm Income: 67 percent of Maine farms earn less than $10,000 a year (2017, NASS)
Top Agricultural Products by Sales: Vegetables, melons, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cow’s milk, nursery and greenhouse products, flowers, sod, aquaculture products, fruits, tree nuts, berries
Resources on Maine Agriculture
- 2019 USDA NASS State Agriculture Overview - Maine
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, NRCS - Maine
- Land Values 2019 Summary, USDA
- American Farmland Trust, Farmland Info Center, Maine
- National Young Farmers Coalition Chapters
- Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA)
- Maine Farmland Trust
- Androscoggin Land Trust: Packer Littlefield Farm
Learn More About Maine’s Somali Bantu CommunityThe Somali Bantu Community Association (SBCA) partnered with Agrarian Trust in 2019 as part of the organization's search for permanent farmland. The SBCA realized the need for secure land in order to guarantee true food security for the community of farmers that their Liberation Farms Program serves. Partnering with Agrarian Trust to form this Agrarian Commons means the SBCA has an incredible opportunity to access farmland for the long term via a 99-year renewable lease, as well as capacity for regenerative and sustainable management of this land.
- Somali Bantu Community Association of Maine (SBCA) - Finding Our Own Land
- Making Refuge: Somali Bantu Refugees and Lewiston, Maine (Duke University Press)
Farm and Food Reports on Maine
- Local Foods, Local Places Action Plan Lewiston-Auburn - St. Mary’s Nutrition Center
- Auburn’s Agriculture and Resource Protection Zone
- Community Food Assessment: Lewiston, ME
- Building Support for Community-Based Foods in the Lakes Region of Maine (2 counties, 2016). Partners: Town of Bridgton and County of Cumberland. PDF Report.
- Lewiston-Auburn Regional Food Hub Feasibility Study. Lewiston + Auburn Region (Maine, 2015).Partners: Karp Resources and Grow L+A.
State of Maine Reports
- Maine Land Use Planning Commission
- Maine Dept. of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, Farmland Protection Program
- Maine Farmland Preservation Ordinances
The Little Jubba Central Maine Agrarian Commons is connected to a rich collaboration and partnership among multiple organizations, including the Somali Bantu Community Association of Maine, Agrarian Trust, Cooperative Development Institute, Land For Good, Land in Common, Maine Farmland Trust, and American Farmland Trust.
The Somali Bantu Community Association (SBCA) chose the name Little Jubba Central Maine to describe their relationship to land, the Jubba River Valley being their ancestral farmland and Central Maine being their home now and the place where they can safely continue their generational farming practices that are so important to passing down their culture to their children.
Maine has 1,307,613 acres of farmland and 7,600 farms. Much of Maine’s prime farmland is located in its southern counties, where the majority of the population lives and where the greatest threat of development pressure looms. A significant swath of farmland also borders the state’s northern coast but is at a lower risk of development. A state report from 2008 found that in the preceding 15 years, Maine had lost more than 800,000 acres of rural land to development, much of it once farmland.
Indigenous people have lived in Maine for millenia and developed governance systems, agriculture, and many cultural practices that live on today. Four federally recognized Native American groups also continue to make their homes in Maine: the Maliseet, Micmac, Penobscot, and Passamaquoddy. These groups are often referred to collectively as the Wabanaki, or “People of the Dawnland.” Indigenous agrarians tended corn, beans, and squash on fertile intervale lands adjacent to the Kennebec, Saco, and Androscoggin rivers.
From the 1600s onward, farmers of European descent typically established small subsistence farms along with commercial operations, many of which struggled due to practices maladapted to the soil and climate. By the mid-1800s, dairy farms became one of Maine's major agricultural businesses. Surplus milk production drove the development of creameries, which the state would become known for. The number of farms in Maine peaked in 1945 at 42,184 with 4,613,175 acres. After the 1950s, thousands of farms were abandoned, many left to be reclaimed by forest. Today, only about 5 percent of Maine’s land base is used for farming. But agriculture still contributes significantly to the state's economy, making up more than 5 percent of the state’s earnings. In the agricultural imagination of the masses, perhaps no other farm product is more associated with Maine than blueberries. Washington and Hancock counties lead the state in blueberry production with thousands of acres in production. Potatoes, produced largely in Aroostook County, are another of Maine’s better known crops.
Somali Bantu Resettlement & Community Building
In the mid-2000s, approximately 3,000 Somali Bantus resettled in Lewiston, Maine in the aftermath of their displacement by the Somalian Civil War and subsequent relocation to Kenyan refugee camps. Southern Maine’s Somali Bantu communities include three distinct cultural groups living in the Lewiston area. The groups are collectively referred to as Somali Bantu. As they have continued on the long journey of resettlement in a new country, many are moving toward land ownership.
The Somali Bantu Community Association (SBCA) formed in 2005 to advocate for the community’s well-being and organizes to meet its needs through a variety of initiatives. SBCA’s Executive Director is Muhidin D. Libah, who is Somali Bantu as well. The organization’s entire board is also Somali Bantu. One of SBCA’s major concerns has been the tenuousness of land leasing for the community’s farms. Time spent negotiating leases, addressing conflict between landlords and farmers, and ensuring that they remain in compliance with any terms or requirements is time taken away from building a stronger community and growing a more successful farm enterprise. Leasing also inhibits long-term planning and long-term development of infrastructure, including improved soil management and conservation practices.
SBCA Advisor Ashley Bahlkow has worked with immigrant and refugee farmers since 2008 and has been working with farmers from various Somali Bantu communities in Lewiston for more than five years. Her work in Maine with the Somali Bantu Community Association (SBCA) began when she worked with her parents to lease two acres of their land (prime agricultural land) to the organization in 2014--the first year of their farm program, now named Liberation Farms. In the first year, there were about 30 families on the land. The program has since grown to 130+ families leasing land in three locations. In 2017, the SBCA received their first large USDA Community Food Program grant. This also allowed the farmers to bring Ashley on as a part-time advisor assisting with hiring, organizational development, and marketing.
Local Agrarian Commons
The Agrarian Trust team, among several partners, has collaborated with the SBCA, Muhidin, and Ashley over the past year to develop an agreement to identify and secure long-term access to farmland for the Somali Bantu Community Association of Maine for the benefit of the farmers it serves. This includes guidance and assistance in accessing funds, support in fundraising to access land, and helping to develop an operating budget to support long-term farmland tenure.
The Agrarian Trust team, among several partners, has collaborated with the SBCA, Muhidin, and Ashley over the past year to develop an agreement to identify and secure long-term access to farmland for the Somali Bantu Community Association of Maine for the benefit of the farmers it serves. This includes guidance and assistance in accessing funds, support in fundraising to access land, and helping to develop an operating budget to support long-term farmland tenure. We look forward to continuing to work together to envision and plant the seeds of regenerative, community-centered agriculture in Maine.
EVENTS & JOBS
PARTNERS & ALLIES
OUR LAND Episode 6: The Crown O'MaineIt all started in a family van hauling organic potatoes to Boston from the very northernmost point of New England, Aroostook County, known as the Crown O’ Maine. Marada and Leah Cook grew up taking turns in the passenger seat beside their dad, who recognized that the commodity game was unsustainable for both farmers and the land and had set out to build an alternative path to market for the diverse crops of his region. From this small family enterprise, Crown O’ Maine Organic Co-op has grown to link over 300 family farms to market and has become a key driver for regional food sovereignty. We're proud to highlight their efforts alongside our sister organization The Greenhorns. Watch the video to learn more about this exciting initiative.
Cooperative Development Institute
Land For Good
Land in Common
Maine Farmland Trust
American Farmland Trust
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- Press Herald: There are new roots on old Maine farmland in Lewiston
- Portland Museum of Art: Muhidin Libah, Director, Somali Bantu Community Organization, Lewiston