Leading the Way for Immigrant Entrepreneurs With a Farm Cooperative 

New Roots Cooperative Farm in Lewiston, Maine

By Jasmine Jacobs, Cooperative Development Institute

“We are a new generation of farmers, as New Americans, and we want to bring our farming to a new level. We have received support from Cultivating Community, Cooperative Development Institute, Maine Farmland Trust, Land for Good, the USDA and others to get to the point where we are. We were able to develop support from these and other organizations and people to open the farm in 2017 and provide fresh, chemical-free vegetables to schools, hospitals, restaurants, and people around the state.” 

-Mohamed Abukar, Farmer, New Roots Cooperative Farm

In Lewiston, Maine, Cooperative Development Institute (CDI) supported New Americans Mohamed Abukar, Batula Ismail, Seynab Ali, and Jabril Abdi in founding New Roots Cooperative Farm, the first immigrant-owned cooperative in Maine, with funding from USDA’s Outreach for Socially and Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program and a USDA Rural Development Socially Disadvantaged Groups Grant, as well as from private philanthropy.

The four met as farmers ten years ago via the New American Sustainable Agriculture Project (NASA) operated by the nonprofit Cultivating Community at Packard-Littlefield Farm in Lisbon, Maine. The NASA project empowers New Americans to launch independent farm businesses, adopt new leadership roles in the community, and attain increased economic independence for themselves and their families. 

Refugees from Somalia, the farmers used their agricultural roots and their cultural understanding of cooperative principles – in Somali language, iskaashi means a "cooperation," which intends to create shared values by developing business models designed to benefit everyone – to demonstrate to other immigrant farmers how their co-op model can meet their needs and build community. With CDI’s support, New Roots Cooperative Farm has become a successful business in a competitive market and a strong model for other New Americans in Lewiston. “Our aim is not only to grow food and run a business ourselves but to help our community and teach them about how to run a business,” says New Roots farmer, Batula Ismail.

To learn more about New Roots Cooperative Farm and learn how you can support New Roots in their work, check out episode 1 of CDI’s Local Foods in Cooperation video series.  

Learn more about USDA’s Outreach for Socially and Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program

Learn more about USDA's Rural Development Socially Disadvantaged Groups Grant

Read more in How State and Federal Programs Support Farmers, Fishermen, Food Entrepreneurs and Consumers in the Northeast

Photo credit: New Roots Cooperative Farm