Dhore a quick study to the barriers of farmland ownership
After two failed farmland purchase agreements, Naima Dhore recently signed a lease to begin farming land in Alexandria, Minnesota, which she'll transition her small-scale organic operation to in February.
Learning from each setback in her pursuit to purchase farmland in Minnesota, Naima Dhore is optimistic that her day will come soon.
Dhore, an organic farmer and owner of Naima's Farm, is also the founder of the Somali American Farmers Association. She was recently a guest on the Agweek Podcast.
She said her passion for farming was innate and not something she sought out. Dhore discovered it when her first son was born, and she wanted to know exactly what she was feeding him and herself.
"That was the main goal, to feed myself, my husband and our firstborn," she said. "Back home in Somalia we didn't have a lot to worry about in terms of what it's in our food, so I just had this 'aha' moment with my firstborn, and wanted to make sure that I had some control of the type of food that we were consuming."
Her skill as an independent grower took root around that time, when she started growing microgreens in the bathroom of their apartment.
"We were using the space we had in our master bathroom, which is not an ideal place to grow food but you know, that was what we were operating with," said Dhore of 2009. "We quickly realized that it was not sustainable."
The first transition she made as a farmer came a few years later when she moved from her home to an incubator farm in Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota, where she became schooled in organic farming. Dhore said it came through experience — three years of growing carrots, kale, Swiss chard and other produce on her own.
Operating her business under the incubator farm, Dhore saw that populations she wanted to serve weren't coming to the traditional farmers markets.
"We went to the farmers markets and quickly made the connection that we weren't seeing a lot of people that look like me," said Dhore.
That was the inspiration for her to start the Somali American Farmers Association.
"The (Somali-American) community expressed a lack of access to markets in these locations, where a lot of the community resides," she said. "It was just something that was alarming, and I wanted to know more and how I could support the community."
This past year, Dhore said she was able to establish SAFA legally and focus on its main project. That work is located outside of Horn Towers, a public housing complex in south Minneapolis where the many of the residents are Somali.
"That's where we're actually growing a lot of food, considering for an urban farm and also a food insecure area of the city," said Dhore. "Supporting their community, as well as making it an open space to neighbors around that area, so they could come out and support and grow with us."
The work at Horn Towers attracted "a lot of attention", said Dhore, and she's excited about that.
"We're hoping this space can be a model for other areas that are lacking green space," she said. "So that other communities can have access to fresh produce."
Battle for land
When Dhore spoke to Agweek this summer, she was feeling a bit discouraged by a second straight failed farmland purchase agreement, which she said was because the appraisal came in too low for the seller. She learned from the experience how farmland agreements are all about finding a good buyer-seller relationship.
Instead of buying land to transition her business ( Naima's Farm LLC ) to, Dhore zoned in on rental opportunities. Recently she signed a lease to begin operating land in Alexandria, Minnesota, which she'll be able to start transitioning to in February.
"We're really excited for that transition, because the idea of purchasing land — that dream, is just on hold right now," said Dhore. "We're hoping to create some wealth in this transition so that we're able to have a better outcome on our third attempt to purchase farmland."
Dhore is a member of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture's Emerging Farmers' Working Group, created in the 2020 Legislative Session to provide guidance to the MDA. Eleven emerging farmers were recently appointed or reappointed to the working group, which begins its second term on Nov. 19.
“The Emerging Farmers’ Working Group’s first year laid a strong foundation for efforts to build the agricultural industry of the future, by bringing all voices and ideas to the table,” said Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan. “I’m thankful to the returning and new members who are committing to move this important conversation forward. I’m so excited about this work.”
A total of 41 people applied for 11, two-year positions in the 19-member advisory group. This year, the Legislature appropriated $150,000 to establish an emerging farmer office and hire a full-time coordinator. This new coordinator will help ensure that anyone who wants to farm can access the available resources and build a successful farm business.
Dhore said the working group has helped her find her voice in the state's ag industry, and she hopes it reaches people like her.
"I am a proud first generation farmer who's interested in learning about this industry, and expanding and continuing the work that we've been doing on a very small scale," said Dhore.