The Bahati Mamas consider themselves some of the luckiest people in City Heights. They are almost a dozen Somali refugees who work together at small gardens in City Heights and a larger farm in North County San Diego – the Tierra Miguel Farm in Pauma Valley.
They created a business, called Bahati Mamas – which means lucky mothers in Swahili. Although the farmers say they don't earn enough to survive on farming alone, the cultural link and values working the land passes on to their children are a rich reward.
"You say, 'Why are they lucky?' " said Bilali Muya, a leader of the Somali Bantu community and International Rescue Committee Farm Educator, who works with the group. "They are lucky to be able to produce the produce for the community.
"Also they are lucky to be back on the land in the USA."
But being lucky doesn't mean they don't struggle, Muya said.
The Bahati Mamas want to expand their farm, and "maximize their land and be able to produce more with small-scale farming, because everything's expensive," Muya said. "Land is expensive. Water is expensive."
Hajia Kangame is a City Heights resident and member of the Bahati Mama group as well as the Mid-City CAN Food Justice Momentum Team.
"The difference is we were not counting the water when we were back home," said Hajia Kangame through a translator. "Here we have to count the water, how much water we use, but there we were not expecting bills for water."
Besides added bills and having to do more with less, the group had to change the types of plants it grew. Sitey Mbere is a City Heights resident and member of both groups as well.
"We never planted leafy greens like cabbage, kale," said Sitey Mbere through a translator. "We never planted it in our country because they just come up naturally. We focused on corn, other stuff, but now we are learning how to plant these leafy greens."
Seasons are different in California, too, said Halima Sowa through a translator. Sowa is a City Heights resident and also belongs to both groups
"If we were going to plant some produce, you have to know if it is for the winter or the summer," said Halima Sowa through a translator. "We experienced it here in the United States, that's there's a certain time that we can plant. There's a certain time that we cannot plant this produce."
Another struggle is adapting to U.S. culture, Muya said.
"Women are doing most of the land farming in Africa," Muya said. "Those are the challenges, the language, the women ... they don't have driver's licenses."
To get around that issue the Somali Bantu Community of San Diego transports the group with shuttles.
Hamadi Jumale, executive director of the Somali Bantu Community, said the farming project is a collaboration with the International Rescue Committee, which responds to humanitarian crises and builds capacity with refugees. Its New Roots Community Farm in City Heights has been in operation since 2008. It also gets funding from The California Endowment as part of its Building Healthy Communities Initiative – a 10 year, $1 billion dollar effort to change how health happens in 14 California sites, including City Heights.
"Our goal is to bring some fresh foods, healthy foods to the community and make a little income for the community," Jumale said. Especially "for the low-income [people] who don't have jobs because of language barriers."
The work goes beyond transferring farm skills for East African refugees to the Southern California climate.
"We're training people how to do marketing," Jumale said. "We are training the community, the farmers, how to take their produce to the restaurants and the farmers' markets to sell."
Part of that training is thinking of farming like a business.
"They should have a plan," Muya said. "Asking them, 'Before you grow crops, where can you sell crops?' Many of them sell to the neighbors, friends, and farmers' markets."
Questions like that are sometimes easier for young people to answer than the Bahati Mamas. That is why young Somali Bantu Community interns play a crucial role helping the Bahati Mamas do marketing and selling what they produce, Jumale said.
"There are few challenges but the youth are coming, saying 'I want to volunteer! I want to volunteer!'" Muya said.
Those interactions between the Bahati Mamas, most who came to the U.S. in 2004, and the younger generation are as important as the 200 to 300 bunches of vegetables the group produces a week.
"Farming to us is a way of life," Bahati Mama Kangame said. "It goes generation to generation."
Teaching young people about farming creates a shared bond.
"We want to teach [our children] how to farm and we want them to know where their food comes from, so that when they grow up they know how to farm and that is what their parent's experience was of farming and what real food is," she said.
The group is working to increase the number of outlets that sell its produce. Recently, it started selling to restaurants in City Heights. Bahati Mamas also sell Community Supported Agriculture boxes – where subscribers sign up for a regular delivery of fresh vegetables and fruit.
Ultimately, the Bahati Mama's want to create a healthier community.
"The reason we are doing this is we want to make sure that we have organic foods in City Heights, and that we provide healthy food to City Heights, to our neighbors," Kangame said.