Naima Dhore got into farming several years ago as a way to have more control over what she fed herself and her newborn.
"We were growing a lot of microgreens in the bathroom of our tiny apartment," said Dhore of her beginning to farming.
That led to her farming and getting an education in organic agriculture at Big River Farms (formerly the Minnesota Food Association), a 150-acre incubator farm near Marine on St. Croix, Minn., that offers farming opportunities to farmers who have historically been underrepresented in farm ownership.
Dhore went through the training program at Big River Farms, in which beginning farmers are mentored and guided through managing their own plots of certified organic land. She and her husband now have multiple years of farming under their belts, growing carrots, kale and Swiss chard on the land.
Dhore is now in the process of purchasing her own 20 acres of farmland on which to operate.
"The goal is really to promote healthy eating in my community, particularly the East African community," Dhore said. "Just trying to get something for the community to connect to back home, and a space where people can come out and farm with me."
This year, Dhore established the Somali-American Farm Association, which is something she said she'd been wanting to do for several years.
"I'm trying to implement this program of fellowship that is intergenerational," said Dhore, who already knows of several elders interested in participating in the program. "I figured why not also include the youth that are born here, and don't have connection to back home."
Along with her experience in farming, Dhore has a deep professional network through her decade of working in education for Hennepin County, making her the ideal individual to steer the Somali American Farmers Association in the right direction.
Inspired by her experience of being trained at Big River Farms, the association was established to support Somali and immigrant farmers who aim to grow culturally specific produce through a mentorship and cooperative structure.
The goal of SAFA is to address the lack of awareness that Somali and immigrant farmers have on the process of beginning their own operations, as well as the lack of awareness on the importance of culturally specific food.
Dhore said the process of securing her own land right now is daunting, and her Farm Service Agency loan to acquire the land still has to be approved.
"There's just so much I need as far as funding and support, because I am a first-generation farmer, so I'm literally starting with nothing," Dhore said.
She said as a Somali and Black woman, another fear that she experienced was not fitting in with the community she farmed in, such as in Marine on St. Croix.
"I didn't know how I would connect with the community there, and how they would connect with me and understand what I was trying to do," she said. "There's always a fear of the unknown of how people will respond to you, and mind you, I don't even wear the hijab."
Her mission is to help younger Black and Somali farmers get over that fear and break into the industry, as well as to provide an education on navigating the complex agricultural industry.
"If you really don't understand where to get support and resources, then you can't maintain," she said.