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Refugees Build Farms and Community in Manchester, NH

By Kenston G. Dearborn

Isho Mohamed is happy to be farming again. In her home country of Somalia, Isho grew corn, potatoes, yams, bananas, pumpkin, watermelon, squash, beans, spinach and many other crops. Photo provided by the SBCA-NH


The Somali Bantu Community Association of New Hampshire (SBCA-NH) is working with Southern New Hampshire Services (SNHS) to create a hands-on agricultural program for refugees living inManchester.  Many Somali Bantu and other refugee groups have found the current economy difficult to navigate and often hard to get healthy food into their homes.  SBCA-NH’s agriculture program will allow resettled refugees the opportunity to provide healthy food for their families while building community through the culturally familiar practice of farming.
The program will focus on choosing crops, preparing the soil and learning about how to grow food in New England.  Refugees will take part in classroom and field trainings, organized farm visits to local working farms and have 100% of the food grown go back to the families participating.  Ultimately the program hopes to create income opportunities through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA’s), farm stands, and farmers’ markets.

Isho hopes to grow “Baa-mi” (okra) this season – a particular favorite of the Somali Bantu. Photo provided by the SBCA-NH


The program is open to all refugees, not just Somali Bantu, and hopes to incorporate some of the vast agricultural know-how of local farmers.  “Our program promotes sustainable practices, and first-hand information from a variety of knowledgeable farmers will go along way with the folks we’re working with,” says Ken Dearborn, Agricultural Training and Outreach Coordinator for SBCA-NH.  Refugee farmers will attend a series of training workshops that will focus on agricultural production, marketing, business planning, and risk management.    SBCA-NH will provide land access for refugees by maintaining training plots at farms and garden sites in the area.
The people known as the Somali Bantu have endured discrimination in Somaliafor over 200 years.  In 1991, as civil war broke out in Somalia, the Bantus suffered widespread massacre and rape.  Thousands of Bantus, among others fleeing the violence, were forced from their land and fled to refugee camps in Kenya.  Ironically, the Bantus found themselves again treated as second-class citizens even among other refugees in Kenya.  Still victims of violence and discrimination, the U.S.began to resettle some 12,000 Somali Bantu refugees here in the U.S.after more than a decade in Kenyan refugee camps.

The Somali Bantu Community Association of New Hampshire (SBCA-NH) is a non-profit organization formed by a group of Somali Bantu who came to the United States as refugee immigrants and originally settled here in Manchester. The SBCA-NH’s mission is to help facilitate resettlement of Somali Bantu refugees by providing assistance that will enhance their education, economic resources, and opportunities for self-sufficiency. By building stronger community, SBCA-NH will be able to help facilitate the social, emotional, and cultural transition of its refugee families into mainstream American Society. To learn more, visit: www.nhsomalibantu.org

The agricultural program is still being developed and the SBCA-NH is working to secure land to farm this season within reach of refugees inManchester.  SBCA-NH is looking for donations of all kinds; from farmable land to hand tools and seeds.  To find out more, donate, or volunteer please contact Ken Dearborn, at (603)296-0443 or kdearborn@snhs.org.
Kenston G. Dearborn is an Agricultural Training and Outreach Coordinator with Somali Bantu Community Association of New Hampshire. He can be reached at 603-296-0443 or kdearborn@snhs.org

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Rachel Whiteheart

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar Lisa Dorval on August 8, 2018 at 10:38 pm

    I work at the Farmer’s Market right beside ISho. Her vegatables are wonderful and she is an extremely hard worker. She helps me every week with my tent. She is kind and so generous. I’m a thrilled that you are mentoring her. I love her and her vegatables!
    Please let me know what seeds you need and I will make sure I get them to her.

    • klr235 klr235 on August 12, 2018 at 12:36 pm

      Hi Lisa,
      It’s great to hear of a personal connection! I would recommend reaching out to the author of this article, Ken Dearborn, to see if any seeds are needed. He can be reached at (603)296-0443 or kdearborn@snhs.org.

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