Bantu group planting the seeds of a greener future

From left, Hamadi Jumale, president of the Somali Bantu Community Organization of San Diego, Hassani Ali, a 19-year-old youth member, Sitey Berre, also a group member, and Megeney Maingula, a 16-year-old youth member, show the types of produce their farmers grow March 3 at the City Heights Farmers' Market. Photo Courtesy of Adam Ward

Wanted: Land in City Heights for Somali Bantu refugees and others to farm.

“We can help the community by growing food around the neighborhood,” said Hamadi Jumale, president of the Somali Bantu Community Organization, which is trying to boost urban agriculture efforts in area.

The organization serves about 400 Bantus in San Diego. They are a minority group who fled their homeland after facing violence and discrimination.

The organization’s programs include health advocacy, English classes, job training, employment services, and housing assistance. It promotes farming because farming is something many recent immigrants have experience in, and it s a natural fit for many residents that the group serves, Jumale said.

“Most of them were farmers all their life, so they are farming in order to be self-employed, in order to make an income and in order to have fresh food in the community,” he said.

Many City Heights Bantus also face language barriers that keep them from getting other jobs, Jumale said. However, a large number of them  live in apartments where they don’t have their own space to grow food.

The group has tilled land in North County, but members want to work closer to home so that farmers – and the food they produce – don’t have to travel as far.“A lot of our community, they don’t drive, and they don’t have any transportation,” Jumale said. “It was difficult to transport the community there and do farming.”

Because of recent changes that removes barriers to urban agriculture in San Diego, expansion of neighborhood farming and farmer’s markets in places such as City Heights is now possible.

The missing ingredient for the Somali Bantu Community Organization of San Diego is a central plot of land. Jumale explains his vision as a place where “everyone can walk by and see the community garden,” he said. “They are able to go there and buy crops.”

The group also is trying to get people aiming to change the look of their backyard to think about turning it into a garden. Anyone interested should contact the Somali Bantu Community Organization.

Youth outreach is a critical way the organization is working toward that vision and trying to create a community that is more proactive about health.

“In the last [few] months, we did one-on-one consulting with people about growing their own food, and the importance of healthy food and unhealthy food,” Jumale said.

The group has 15 core youth members, including Hassani Ali, 19, and Megeney Maingula, 16. Ali was one of the first volunteers at the New Roots Community Farm off 54th Street, he said. They have both been volunteering with Somali Bantu Community Organization for about a year.

Megeney summed up why she stays involved with the program.

“It is important because there are a lot of refugees: Korean, Somali, all the people who migrated here,” Megeney said. “They are used to farming … so being able to farm would be good for them and for us. And there would be fresh vegetables.”

Somali Bantu Community Organization of San Diego is part of the Mid-City CAN Food Justice Momentum Team. The California Endowment’s Building Healthy Community Initiative is one source of funds for the group.

Adam Ward is the Mid-City CAN staff writer and a former San Diego Union-Tribune editor. Adam has lived in San Diego for nearly a decade and is the father of a young son. You can contact him at  award@midcitycan.org or (619) 283-9624