Isuken is the nation’s first Somali Bantu farm-to-table cooperative food truck

Somali cuisine on the menu as Belfast Co-op welcomes Lewiston food truck

Tue, 10/23/2018 - 8:45am

    BELFAST— The word “Isuken” means unity in the Somali language, and after a successful crowdsourcing campaign this summer, six Somali Bantu members of a farm-to-table cooperative in Lewiston were able to parlay the word into the official name for their new business — the nation’s first Somali Bantu farm-to-table cooperative food truck.

    With October being National Cooperative Month, the Belfast Co-op invited the Isuken Co-op food truck to Belfast on Saturday, October 20, to share the fresh, local cuisine of Somali Bantu farmers and chefs with the Midcoast community. 

    “A lot of the co-ops are celebrating the month of October in different ways,” said Marketing Manager Carisa Carney. “Co-ops operate under seven principles and the sixth is ‘Cooperation Among Co-ops,’ so we thought it would be a great way to honor the principle by inviting the Isuken Co-op Food Truck to Belfast.”

    Inside the truck, parked in the Belfast Co-op’s parking lot, several members of Isuken’s worker-owned cooperative were busily preparing for lunch.

    “We have our own food traditions that I want to share with a culture that has never tried it,” said Isaac Garrow, worker-owner and Operations Manager for Isuken Co-op.

    On the menu were sambusas, which are fried pastries filled with meats and local vegetables sourced from New Roots Farm Cooperative, a 30-acre farm in Lewiston, run by four Somali-Bantu refugees, who became citizens after coming to the United States in 2006.

    A long line began to form around noon, when Isuken was open for business. Beyond the sambusas, Isuken was also making and selling Somali chai tea, a sweet, spicy, milky tea.

    This is the first time the Belfast Co-op has hosted a food truck in their parking lot for National Cooperative Month.

    “Any collaboration we can do to assist and support another co-op in the state of Maine is really important to us,” said Doug Johnson, Belfast Co-op’s General Manager. “It’s something we’ve been building over the last several years with the Cooperative Maine Business Alliance, which we’re part of. And that’s how we came to learn of Isuken and the work they’re doing in Lewiston.”

    This past summer, Isuken’s Kickstarter campaign successfully raised more than $14,000, surpassing their original goal of $12,000 to launch the business. More than 200 backers contributed to the campaign, which allowed the worker-owned cooperative to purchase the food truck. After they spent the day in Belfast, Isuken headed back to Lewiston, where they will continue to work at fairs, festivals and downtown locations selling their food. As they continue to build their brand and raise money. Isuken’s long-term goal is to put down roots toward a permanent farm-to-table restaurant.

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