The Somali Bantu Community Association of Maine Lewiston / Auburn (SBCMALA) is a non-profit organization founded in 2005 (SBCMALA, 2017). The goal of the association is to empower Somali Bantu families to lead successful and healthy lives in the United States. The organization runs several programs to benefit Lewiston’s Somali Bantu community such as the Community Farming Program which began in 2014.
Currently the program lease farming sites in New Gloucester, Auburn, and Lewiston which allow Somali Bantu families to grow their own produce. The program also helps farmers gain familiarity in Maine’s landscape. Currently, thirty families farm on the six acre site in Lewiston. Each family receives 0.1 acres plot (0.04 hectares) and can autonomously decide which crops to plant and in what quantities on their parcel of land. There are currently four fields that have been cultivated on the Lewiston property; only one of which has been consistently productive. The overall lack of productivity may be attributed to several pressures on the crops such as pests, nutrient-deficient soil, water availability, and inefficient crop pairings. The goal of our research was to identify solutions to increase both the quality and productivity of crops, as well as increase the overall land value in a culturally relevant and cost-efficient manner.
One way to maximize yield is to supplement the soil through nutrient amendments such as lime and manure. Given our soil tests and site visits, we recommend an application of non-magnesium calcitic lime applied once every year for the next two years. This will increase pH and calcium content of the soil. The soil is also deficient in a number of macronutrients. An application of manure can help to replenish these important macronutrients and support greater plant growth, thus increasing crop yield. In addition to amending the soil, a crop rotation plan could be employed in order to decrease the susceptibility of crops to pests and pathogens. Implementing rotation techniques can allow soil nutrients to replenish and potentially increase productivity in successive years. Examples of rotation techniques include rotating crop sections through each family’s parcel, and leaving a field or a portion of a field fallow each season. Productivity can further be increased through the use of chicken tractors on the fallow field. Chicken tractors may provide an additional source of subsistence for the families while simultaneously increasing soil nutrients.
Crop quality can be improved by mitigating the effect of pests. This may be done through the installation of fencing, as well as strategically pairings crops. An offset electric fence can prohibit deer from entering the field and eating the crops. A plastic barrier fence is an inexpensive solution for keeping out smaller pests such as porcupines from the cultivated areas, possibly increasing crop security. Additionally, tactfully pairing crops that are culturally relevant and are already in rotation could divert pests from the main crops towards the less desirable crop.
Through these recommendations, we hope to improve the quality and quantity of crops available to SBCMALA’s farmers. Additionally, introduce new sustainable farming techniques which may improve the productivity of SBCMALA’s Lewiston farm.
Nemy, Julia; Perlmutter, Drew; and Thombs, Dylan, "Increasing Crop Quality and Production on a SBCMALA's Farm in Lewiston, Maine" (2017). Community Engaged Research Reports. 41.