Naima Dhore is the leader of the Somali American farming community in Minnesota, but she's having trouble finding farmland for herself and her organization.
"It's a process, because I'm learning this by myself and I'm doing this by myself," Dhore said. "I don't have a lot of support."
She recently experienced her second failed farmland purchase agreement, and Dhore said the was because the appraisal came in too low for the seller.
"(The seller) didn't want to move forward with our closing date, and finalize that transaction," she said. "So I guess they put the farm back on the market."
Dhore said that although each failed purchase agreement has been a major disappointment, she's gained "a lot of knowledge and understanding" from the experiences.
Her first purchase agreement fell through after delays by the USDA's Farm Service Agency, said Dhore, and the seller decided they couldn't wait until the agree upon closing date. Calls and attempts to confirm this with the Minnesota state FSA office were unsuccessful.
She said she's tried to be outspoken about the process, including through social media.
"I'm just trying to highlight these challenges and be vocal about some of the frustration that I have had," Dhore said. "And some of it falls on the USDA, which needs to do better for emerging farmers like myself, and make it more feasible."
Dhore said the time and money required for each purchase agreement takes a lot out of her. For example, on her last deal the cost of the inspection was a lot for the agreement to fall through in the end.
"It's not like I have the money just sitting around, and say OK I'm willing to do this each time until I secure my land," she said.
Thom Petersen, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture as well as Patrice Bailey, an assistant commissioner with the MDA, have made themselves available to Dhore for her to share her frustrations and what would help, she said.
"I told them with these transition programs, something needs to be done, where retired farmers are willing to work with emerging farmers like myself, to have a fair transaction," she said. "And (Commissioners Petersen and Bailey) are always open to conversation, and I think they're doing what they can, with what they have in place."
But she said it has to be a collective effort with the MDA, USDA and current landowners looking to transition off their land.
Aside from working a full-time job as a program manager for a nonprofit, spending nights searching and researching available farmland and being a full-time mom to her children, Dhore is in charge of growing vegetables with the Somali American Farmers Association, on a small plot of land in south Minneapolis.
On the farmland she's focused on acquiring in the future, she'll have farmers involved with SAFA shadow her to learn how to get started with their own operations.
"It's a challenge when you don't have a space to do that work, you know, especially when you have people interested in farming," she said.
For now, she's having to do that work on a much smaller scale in Minneapolis. But still, Dhore said SAFA is growing in membership and partnerships around the Twin Cities.
"SAFA is really doing incredible work in terms of collaborating with nonprofits to get the word out," she said. "And we have a plan for the growing season where we can share produce to the community."
This summer, Dhore said that SAFA is partnering with the University of Minnesota Extension to grow leafy greens and other crops that are native to East Africa. She's most excited about growing swiss chard.
"I think I grow the most beautiful switch chard," she said.
Letting farmers emerge
Dhore is one of the 17 members included in the MDA's Emerging Farmers' Working Group, created in the 2020 Legislative Session to provide guidance to the MDA. She said the working group is making progress on issues but "more could be done."
"It's one of those things where I wish we could talk more about land access, and have more raw conversation about the breakdown, the policies that exist and the changes that need to happen," she said.
The working group meetings are an introduction for some of the farmers to the many resources available to them, which Dhore said is great.
"But at the same time, we can be a little bit more productive, and get to the nitty gritty of the reality of emerging farmers, and the support they need," she said. "Because it comes down to acquiring land, bottom line."
With a higher percentage of farmers getting to the point of transitioning away from their farmland, Dhore said there needs to be a greater sense of urgency by landowners to get land in the hands of younger farmers who are looking to operate sustainable systems.
"My last purchase agreement would have been a great opportunity for my production and for SAFA, so I was willing to compromise, but really sort of pushing it," she said. "And it shouldn't be that way, because I don't want to set myself up for failure. That defeats the whole purpose of me waiting for so many years before I considered purchasing my own land."
If there's a singular message that Dhore would like to get across to current landowners, it's that SAFA and the community she belongs to deserves the chance to grow what tastes like home for them.
She said she understands that access to land is a challenge for white farmers too, but farmers of color have a different and more difficult pathway.
"I'm passionate about produce that my community would enjoy," she said. "And when you have a community as large as my community here that resides in the state, we should have access to produce food that we're familiar with, with no limitation."