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Stories & Inspiration

Sharing stories and inspiration about our food system work helps us to connect with one another, find greater empathy and compassion, and provides the motivation to continue on with our work. We invite you to share your stories and inspirations with us for consideration in our feature on this page! Share your story!

A Fresh Start in New Hampshire: Isho Mahamed & Fatuma Yussuf

Isho and Fatuma at their farm standFresh Start Farms is a collective of refugee and immigrant farmers participating in the New American Sustainable Agriculture Project (NASAP). A project of the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success (ORIS), the purpose of the program is two-fold: help new immigrants establish a secure food source and a sustainable small business. 

Currently, the farm is a collective of 24 immigrant and refugee farmers, representing Somali-Bantu, Bhutanese, Burundi, and Congolese communities. NASAP provides technical assistance as well as growing space on its seven-acre site in Dunbarton, New Hampshire, with nine out of 24 farmers growing on a commercial scale.

Part of the collective is the mother-daughter duo of Fatuma and Isho. The two fled their homeland, Somalia, in the early 1990s and immigrated to the United States in 2004 from a refugee camp in Kenya. Isho has been involved in NASAP since 2007. Fatuma went through NASAP’s new farmer trainings this winter and started farming this spring.

The two have separate plots in Dunbarton. Isho’s plot is around a quarter of an acre and Fatuma’s is around an eighth of an acre. On their land, the farmers grow an array of vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers, beans, basil, and squash. Isho is drawn to farming because of her love for fresh and healthy food. She also enjoys how growing her own food gives her the opportunity to have a source of income.

The mother, Fatuma, was a farmer in her native land of Somalia, growing her own fruits and vegetables, both for subsistence and sale. Here in the States, Fatuma teaches her daughter farming and production, while Isho teaches her mother the business aspects of farming. Both have filled in the gaps in each other’s knowledge base, while NASAP has developed and sharpened both of their skill sets. Together, the warm and amiable pair has a sustainable business model on their hands. Isho and Fatuma sell their produce through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) memberships as well as weekly farmers markets in the region.

When asked about the difference between farming in the States and farming in Somalia, Fatuma says farming in Somalia is labor-intensive. Without irrigation and technology, farming in Somalia is more taxing. Additionally, there are more market channels for their produce in the States. In Somalia, Fatuma sold the produce at a market once a month. Here, the family has numerous outlets, including a CSA and weekly markets, which allows them to generate a greater revenue stream.

As the nation’s demographics become increasingly diverse, this change is reflected in the agricultural sector. Isho and Fatuma are part of a collective of new American farmers who are adding diversity and inspiration to a growing and vibrant occupation.

Chantal Mullen: Vermont Food Systems Tour

Chantal on skid steerChantal Mullen is originally from New Hampshire but now calls Virginia home. Chantal has a Certificate in Graphic Communications, an Associate’s Degree in Horticulture Technologies from Forsyth Technical Community College, a Bachelor’s Degree in Agriculture Education. Chantal is also involved in a community initiative called SEED2SEED. Inspired by the Vermont Food Systems Study Tour, a three-week immersive experience into the Vermont food system, she participated in this summer, Chantal is starting her Master’s Degree in Sustainable Food Systems at Green Mountain College.

Why do you do what you do?

I have been growing things since I was about eight years old and to this day find the potential one tiny seed has fascinating. Through my studies in Horticulture and Soil Science, I discovered a passion for sharing what I learned. That discovery lead me to pursue Agriculture Education at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University, which takes what I previously learned in the Horticulture Technologies program and teaches me to effectively share with others.

I have been a single mom in the past; trying to juggle multiple jobs, college, church, and spending time with my son. I know the realities of time constraints, budgets, and having to choose between making sure we are full or being able to cook nutritious food that’s actually good for us. This is where my life experiences and my education have come together in a meaningful way for me. Helping other people in these same situations find solutions to this problem is something that is on my heart.

Why did you join the Vermont Food System Tour?

I was planning on applying to Virginia Tech for a degree in Crop Science but had mixed feelings about where I would possibly end up with that degree. I was concerned with genetically modified plants and I personally don’t think God intended for us to change what He made. I had prayed about my reservations in this area and then I received an interesting email about a three-week tour of Vermont. I was intrigued with the idea of Food Systems and my background in agriculture played a role. After checking into the tour further, I realized that this was a one of a kind opportunity to experience agriculture in a larger view. 

During the tour, we would be able to hear from almost all parts of the Food Systems and learn how they are all connected and affect each other. Some of the areas covered that were most appealing to me were laws, policy, government, relationships, food justice, and rights. Participation in the University of Vermont Food Summit was another plus on the list of reasons to join the tour. Hands-on experience is important to me to fully understand how things work and that is what the tour is all about. From being on this tour I gained clarification on what I wanted to do and how I could make that happen.

What was your favorite experience from the Tour?

My favorite experience from the tour was at Vermont Tech. They have a high focus on experiential learning. I got to work a skid steer to load shavings for animals. I was instructed on all the details of milking cows and then was able to milk the cows myself. Cows have personalities and some like to test your patience!

Later on, I did morning chores. I went to the pasture where I received an unexpected zap to my hand, which prompted a lesson in types of fencing. We fed the cows and learned how, what, and why they are fed. It was a great feeling to be walking in the middle of a herd of cows.

We then jumped into the small utility vehicle and rode to another pasture on campus where some mischievous teenage cows had somehow bailed the pasture. I experienced rounding cows and found out that I was not so good at it. The ground was very wet and laden with holes from hoofs. By 6:30 AM I was drenched up to my thighs in water, mud, and…other things. But I gained such an incredible amount of firsthand experience that I didn’t mind at all.

How can the FSNE Network help you with your upcoming action opportunities?

While a sustainable urban education farm is my long-term goal, I want to be able to help people now on a smaller scale. This is how SEED2SEED was created. SEED2SEED is an outreach group that meets every Monday night. Experience in gardening is not necessary, just willing hands to serve each other and the community. We plan out and tend to a community garden and then serve the community with the harvest that God provides. 

Our motto is “We Plant In SOIL”. Sowing Opportunity; Improving Lives. This means we not only look for opportunities to sow into the ground but in to each other’s lives. We improve lives though personal experiences in and around the garden as well as through the use of the harvest for those in need. We have a Facebook page where you can see our progress in the garden and we communicate about our meetings for each week. 

Right now, we are looking for groups to partner with us to serve a local population (Roanoke, VA). We hope to spread awareness of what we are doing. Gaining connections and partners is what will allow us to be the most effective with our time and resources. We seek like-minded individuals who place high priority on values of a community helping each other, sustainable gardening, and sharing God’s love through this outreach.

Stories from the Field: Southside Community Land Trust

SCLT gardenerJoseph Medina is an apprentice with Southside Community Land Trust (SCLT) and a resident of Providence. Every week, Joseph harvests fresh produce from City Farm, a three-quarter acre urban farm in the heart of Providence’s Southside neighborhood owned by SCLT. The produce is then sold directly to Providence residents at a number of area farmers markets.

“Customers come to our tent and say ‘Oh are you from City Farm?’ They don’t know me personally,” Joseph says, “but they treat me like they’ve known me for ten years. They feel a connection to what we’re doing and they feel like they are part of it.”

City Farm is well-regarded by the people of Providence. It boasts a variety of educational programs for local residents including workshops, tours, school trips, and the apprentice program. SCLT’s commitment to local residents has been unmistakable since its formation in 1981.

SCLT began as a partnership between Brown University students and Hmong refugees in South Providence. Both groups recognized that there weren’t many employment opportunities available to the residents of South Providence. Through the creation of SCLT, they hoped urban agriculture could become a viable opportunity for some residents.

“The original mission was to create opportunities for people in South Providence to live sustainably,” says Margaret DeVos, the executive director of SCLT. “It is not just environmental sustainability, but also economic sustainability.”

Creating opportunities for the people of Providence is at the core of SCLT’s work. By helping connect aspiring farmers with land, SCLT is ensuring the economic security of farmers while also giving them the tools to farm in an environmentally conscious way.

Accessibility, whether to education, training, or land on which to grow food, resonates strongly throughout SCLT’s work. The land trust owns 19 community gardens and farms in Providence which translates to 350 families having the ability to grow, eat, and sell fresh, healthy food.

“You don’t wait for the people in charge of the food system to change their marketing strategy when more and more young people are developing diabetes,” Margaret says. “You do whatever you can to make your community healthier.”

SCLT also supports six “Network Hubs,” community gardens designated as spaces to build community leadership and agricultural capacity in the city. These Network Hubs are visited by community members in order to attend gardening workshops, obtain agricultural resources such as compost or seeds, and to share gardening tips and knowledge with their neighbors.

While the reach of Southside Community Land Trust is broad due to its diverse programming, Margaret boils down their work to just a few important words: “We help people grow food.”

It is a simple concept, but it has a profound impact on an urban area in which healthy, fresh food is difficult to come by.

“Most of the people we work with are living in communities where there is not enough fresh, healthy, and affordable food. We do the work that makes it available to everyone,” says Margaret.

Making healthy food more available within Providence would not be possible without their efforts to connect aspiring farmers with land.

“An acre of agricultural land in Rhode Island costs $11,800. It’s the second highest price for agricultural land in the country after New Jersey,” explains Margaret.

SCLT also operates Urban Edge Farm, a 50 acre farm located just outside of the city on land owned by the state of Rhode Island. Urban Edge is a model for responsible land stewardship where six small and beginning farmers practice sustainable agriculture.

As urban agriculture increasingly becomes viewed as a solution, others will look to SCLT as an example of an organization that has created economic opportunities for residents while strengthening the availability of healthy, sustainable food in the process.

“Giving people access to fresh, healthy food is huge,” says Joseph.  “There’s no better way to do that than giving them the ability to grow their own food.” Southside Community Land Trust is leading the charge to do that.

This inspiring story comes from The Henry P. Kendall Foundation, which supports SCLT. 


Network Profile: Joanne Burke

Joanne BurkeJoanne Burke, Ph.D., RD, LD, is the Thomas W. Haas Professor of Sustainable Food Systems at the UNH Sustainability Institute and member of the Backbone Team for Food Solutions New England. As a Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Biomedical Sciences (UNH College of Life Sciences & Agriculture), she is Director of the UNH Dietetic Internship Program and a teaching faculty member in the Nutrition Program. Dr. Burke advances activities across curriculum, operations, research, and engagement in sustainable food systems at UNH and via state and regional initiatives. Her scholarship focuses on food system planning, with a special emphasis on the role of race, socio-economic status, and food security and their impacts on food access, nutrition, and health status.

Why do you do what you do?

I very much enjoy nutrition because it’s a profession and a passion that intersects with so many parts of our lives – social justice, the impact of healthy eating on the health of our bodies, the pleasure of eating together. The need for food unites us all – it’s something everyone experiences.  To me one of the big challenges is that we all need food, but not everyone can access food. This is a solvable problem if we have the collective will to comprehensively address the structural causes of hunger and food insecurity in our county. As an individual who’s had the privilege of higher education and never experienced persistent hunger, to think that children can’t reach their full potential or that there are about 1 in 6 Americans (many of them children) who don’t routinely have access to healthy food is distressing and indeed shameful.

What motivates you?

Food can make a powerful difference in the lives of individuals and communities. I find it rewarding to contribute to going beyond the symptoms by lifting up systemic issues that contribute to food insecurity.  Often at the federal level, the question of food insecurity focuses on how many people are hungry and what food assistance programs should do in response. This approach accepts the prevalence of hunger and poverty when the real questions should be why are so many people suffering from food insecurity and what are the structural changes needed to reverse this trend?

Working as part of the UNH Sustainability Institute and the Food Solutions New England network gives me the opportunity to learn from others, and to help shape the direction we’re going. Just because a lot of people are concerned about their food doesn’t mean there will be changes in policy and practices that promote greater access to more livable wage jobs for all Americans. At the end of the day, you hope in your lifetime you’ve made a positive difference, and I hope the work we are engaged in makes a difference for this generation and for generations to come. 

What are your most urgent concerns or upcoming action opportunities?
  1. The US Dietary Guidelines final draft is being reviewed. Chapter 5 of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s February 2015 Scientific Report calls for the Guidelines to reflect a commitment to promoting food system sustainability and safety.  However, some meat industry groups and members of the USDA feel that consideration of sustainability is beyond the scope of the Guidelines. The comment period is open until May 8 – submit your comment on why keeping these sustainability guidelines are essential for food system viability.
  2. With the new Congress, calls for additional SNAP cuts are reprehensible since SNAP benefits aren’t able to meet monthly food needs. Sign the Food Research Action Center's petition in support of SNAP. 
  3. In New Hampshire, we have made important strides in coming together as a statewide network. I am very energized about the momentum of our NH Food Alliance network and food system strategy work. 
  4. Food Solutions New England’s emerging work on race and equity continues to call the network to make a greater commitment to growing our individual and collective capacity to address food system inequities. 
How can the FSNE Network help you overcome or address those concerns or help you with the action?

Through collaborative efforts, brainstorming, growing understanding and channeling our collective will, FSNE is lifting up and addressing critical food system issues. The network approach emphasizes collective impact – we’re better together. From the first summit in 2011, we realized we have clout in numbers and expertise. We’ve built new professional and personal relationships and reached out to people for resources, stories, and intellectual and emotional power, calling on network participants to ask what they think and how they’re responding to various issues. The network offers professional, intellectual, and emotional support. This helps to recharge batteries, knowing we’re working together to affect positive change.

“A social movement that only moves people is merely a revolt. A movement that changes both people and institutions is a revolution.” 
― Martin Luther King Jr.Why We Can't Wait

Tilting at Windmills: Kim Libby

This profile comes from Niaz Dorry, the Coordinating Director of the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance 

I lost a friend yesterday. Kim Libby was a rabble-rouser. She rubbed the right people the wrong way. She was ready to do things no one else was willing to do or wasn't yet ready to do. And she made no apologies for it. I had much to still learn from and share with Kim. But yesterday Kim passed away.

Kim pictured in the Food Sovereignty brochure doing what she loved: passing out shares of shrimp to the first ever group of CSF shareholders. Click to read the full document.

Kim pictured in the Food Sovereignty brochure doing what she loved: passing out shares of shrimp to the first ever group of CSF shareholders. An advocate and artist at heart, Kim used to call her style of activism as "tilting at windmills." What she meant was gathering all our strength together to make the changes we felt were necessary often against powerful forces. 

Kim and I met in the mid-1990s at New England Fishery Management Council meetings. I was a Greenpeace oceans campaigner, and, with only a couple of years under my belt, a greenhorn at the fisheries politics game. 

Back then, we were amongst those opposing the expansion and industrialization of the Atlantic herring and mackerel fisheries. Although this battle is now taken up by numerous organizations, back then only a small group of people – mostly fishermen - were raising concerns about this issue. Even some of Greenpeace’s environmental allies wouldn’t touch it. After all, mathematically, the herring fishery was not considered overfished. Numbers were advertising major escalation of the fishery inviting factory fishing operations to try to carve their way into the fishery. Amongst them the Atlantic Star, a 369 foot factory trawler whose existence unveiled a whole web of intrigue around the industrial pelagic fishing industry.

What Kim, and other fishermen who dared to speak up at the time, saw was not only the ecological implications of such a bad idea, but also the social and economic consequences. We didn’t have to look too far to know that factory trawlers and industrial fisheries designed for extraction not fishing were going to undermine the recovery of this region’s ecosystem. The home of the sacred cod. The humpback whales. The puffins. The porpoises. The Bluefin tuna. All of these species feed on small pelagic fish such as herring and mackerel. Bluefin tuna migrate with their feed. No herring no tuna. 

Back then, we argued that because of herring’s role in the marine ecosystem, and with so many of its predators recovering or in recovery or listed as endangered species, escalation should be measured. At that time, the numbers were saying upwards of 540,000 MT can be caught – more than reported caught at the height of fishery and before its crash in the late 1970s. We were arguing that no more than 107,000 MT should be considered.

Ultimately, an unprecedented coming together of fishing communities and organizations throughout New England and across 13 countries spoke up against industrial development of small pelagic fisheries in general, but Atlantic herring specifically. 

Back then, we were mocked by should-be-allies and downright adversaries for even bringing up the idea of 107,000 MT. Wouldn’t you know it… last year they decided to limit the fishery to 107,000 MT. Go figure.

Kim and others were amongst those group of fishermen who could see the bigger picture early on. And she remained that way. Her ability to see what others didn’t – yet – frustrated her. She would sometimes get impatient. 

I remember one night in 2009 sitting at my kitchen table. Kim was frustrated and wanted to know why other communities didn’t see the potential that she did in the CSF movement.

Kim smiling while judging the Seafood Throwdown at the Common Ground Country Fair, with her husband and soulmate Gary in the forefront.

Kim smiling while judging the Seafood Throwdown at the Common Ground Country Fair, with her husband and soulmate Gary in the forefront.

At the time, the first ever Community Supported Fishery (CSF) – Port Clyde Fresh Catch CSF – had completed its first year. Cape Ann Fresh Catch CSF was taking life and we were beginning to see some other CSF conversations start and bloom. We (NAMA) worked with Kim and family to start the CSF in Port Clyde before I came onboard. We helped get Cape Ann Fresh Catch off the ground with their advice. 

Back then, those of us working on creating CSFs, a model first presented by Susan Andreatta of NC Sea Grant, were mocked by the status quo. Most of those entrenched in the current system would talk to us in such a way that you knew they really wanted to reach out, pat you on the head and say “oh how nice. What a cute idea. Good for you.” And as you can imagine, Kim would give them a piece of her mind!

Kim’s early lessons from the Port Clyde operations were key to what has since blossomed into a movement of communities working to take back control of their SEAfood chain. CSFs are popping up everywhere. And we owe it to Kim and her family for being brave, taking those first steps, and tilting at those windmills.

Back in the winter of 2007/2008, when I was being considered for the job of NAMA’s coordinating director, Kim was on NAMA’s board. I was so glad to see her name on that list.

During our first staff and board retreat Kim told me she was rooting for me to be the new director because “We’re alike. We both like to tilt at windmills.”  

Kim was an activist, an artist, a fisherman’s wife, a fishing community advocate, a trail blazer, a mother, a sister, a daughter, and a friend. I’ll miss the strength of her shoulders at those windmills. I hope she can see that her hard work and dedication paved the path for a lot of strong people who are now part of a movement many believed would never exist.

Thank you, Kim. 

This profile was originally published on the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance's blog.