The New American Sustainable Agriculture Project (NASAP), based at Cultivating Community in Portland, Maine, provides training and technical assistance to immigrants and refugees seeking to develop farm businesses in Maine. Most of its program participants come from African communities where agriculture was a way of life for their families before their homes were devastated by war. Now in Maine, they want to put that old way of life to work creating farm businesses in their new home.
Seynab Ali and Batula Ismail have been participating in NASAP since 2006. Since 2009, they have been successfully attending one of Southern Maine´s best farmers´ markets in Kennebunk, where they have built a loyal following. Every year, customers who attend the first spring markets, before most vegetable vendors arrive, start asking when they will see them again. In 2011, they were also accepted into a competitive market in Mid-Coast Maine in the town of Damariscotta, and together with a farmers´ market in Lewiston, where they live, they now attend three farmers´ markets a week.
In addition, with the support of NASAP, they are delivering 27 CSA shares to various offices in the Portland area a week. They have also independently recruited 5 CSA customers from their farmers´ markets without the program’s support.
Both Seynab and Batula completed a second year of business plan development this year. In NASAP’s business plan track, advanced participants like Seynab and Batula are paired with expert advisors from the agricultural community to give them additional resources to succeed. The business planner helped them identify their financial goals for the year, then walked back through each individual market to identify what necessary weekly sales would need to be to reach their goal. They then modified the goal to keep their plans realistic and discussed business strategies to meet their weekly sales targets.
Seynab and Batula each made several thousand dollars in 2009, enough to meet the USDA’s definition of a farmer but not enough to support a family. Over the past two years, however, with NASAP’s support they have seen their income rise by over ten times. They are always thinking about the next steps in developing their business and acquiring the skills they need to succeed. In 2012, their goals are to better integrate cover crop into their farm and to set up their irrigation system as early in the spring as possible.
Above all, for the customers who have gotten to know them at markets, it is their enthusiasm and their commitment to succeed as farmers in Maine that shines through. In Batula’s words, “This country is a new country. It is difficult to farm. I want to improve my life through farming… to make my farm bigger and to have my own farm and house. I believe no one can live without farms.”