The Northeast

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Final Day - Portland Farmers Market: A Festival of Nations

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July 25, 2015 — It's my last day in Maine and I spend it back in Portland. Time is running out, so I never make it to Taco Trio to see Jonathan, but I do return to La Bodega Latina. Neither Margarita nor Juán are there, so I just buy one more package of tortillas gorditas to take back to RI with me.

On the way into the center of town, I stumble upon these tents set up at Deering Oaks Park. There is a banner at the top of the road announcing the local farmer's market.

I park and walk over.


Here is what I see as I stroll down the hill and onto the park ground grounds.

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I hear soft music strumming … the sound of a Ukulele

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This is Benjamin. I give him a dollar.


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The farmers market tents line one side of the park with all kinds of wonderful local products.


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… and flowers.



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Selling refreshments on the other side of the line of fresh products, I see this flag. I ask the vendor and he tells me it's the Ethiopian flag.

"Are you from Ethiopia and do you live in Portland?" I ask. "Yes … and yes," he responds.
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Fresh Start Farms is a collective of immigrant and refugee farmers as part of the Maine Cultivating Community New American Sustainable Agriculture Project (NASAP). They sell produce to restaurants, grocers, schools, summer camps and at farmers' markets.

According to their website: "Produce is grown with soil health, environment, and consumer happiness in mind. No chemicals are used in the growing of our produce."

This refugee and immigrant farmer-training program breaks down borders in the State of Maine by empowering New Americans to launch independent farm businesses to adopt new leadership roles in the community, and to attain increased economic independence for themselves and their families.

The enterprising people with whom they collaborate in this program learn to grow food in the context of Maine’s landscape and weather patterns, to understand the consumer preferences of large buyers and individual customers in the United States, to create individual marketing plans suited to their interests, to become skilled at financial management, and to interact with customers in English.


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I circle back and stop at this farm stand. This is Rebeka. She says she is Bantu-Somali and drives from Lisbon, Maine every Saturday to sell her home-grown vegetables. Lisbon is outside of Lewiston. Today, Rebeka is selling bok choy, cabbage, potatoes and cucumbers that she grows at Fresh Start Farms.



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With Rebeka is Seynab. She allows me to take her photo and when I ask her to smile, her eyes looks away from the camera, and smiles only slightly. Whatever lies behind the borders of those eyes and that smile, only Seynab knows.

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