Imagine a sea of farmers. Yes, a sea made up of Minnesota farmers. Waves of them. The patchwork of people is brilliant and diverse, and the excitement is electric.
The farmers attending the Immigrant and Minority Farmers Conference (IMFC) came together at the University of Minnesota School of Continuing Education and Agriculture on Saturday, February 7. People from all different backgrounds buzzed around learning about the different resources the State of Minnesota has for small farmers.
There was something for everyone. Whether you were in your first year of farming, just thinking about farming, or had a full-fledged 10-acre operation, one could find a workshop, booth or information session that was relevant.
The conference, presented by the Minnesota Food Association, is aimed at Minnesota minorities and immigrants. If you didn’t know, the Twin Cities is considered one of the most diverse cities per capita in the United States. “Approximately 14.8 percent of Minneapolis and St. Paul residents (92,985 individuals) are foreign-born. Most foreign-born residents come from Asia (5 percent of the cities’ combined population), Africa (3.7 percent), and Latin America (4.7 percent). Of Minnesota’s Latino population (208,052), an overwhelming proportion (148,404 individuals) resides in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. The state also contains the nation’s second-highest Hmong population, an ethnic group originating in China and Southeast Asia, estimated in 2008 at 53,261.,” (United States Census Bureau).
This significant population makes up 14 percent of farm workers (according to Minnesota Business Immigration Coalition in 2009). In Minnesota many of these farms are owned and operated by that 14 percent. Many Hmong and Latino immigrants are coming from farming backgrounds and are excited to contribute their abilities to the Minnesota agriculture.
Mississippi Market’s role at the conference was as a relationship builder. A cooperative is member-owned and stands behind the need for communities to be self-sufficient. In order to do this we must strengthen our relationship with these local farmers as they are the present and future of agriculture in Minnesota. Mississippi Market’s table had multi-lingual material explaining our product policy when it came to fresh produce.
Having the opportunity to interact with all of these Minnesotans and their different perspectives was a once in a lifetime opportunity. As a small-town girl raised in a rural ranching community, all the diversity was truly enriching.
Kelli and I manned the table on Saturday. As fellow Mississippi Market produce employees we were able to bond with the conference attendees over different produce and growing tactics. One women, Sally Vang from Stillwater, told me all about her wonderful thai basil and lemongrass. After giving her our two produce managers contact information and the co-op’s product policy, my hope is we’ll be able to bring in more local products, like Vang’s.
Here’s to the future of the co-op and to those who attended the Immigrant & Minority Farmers Conference! May the relationships continue to build and progress towards a healthy future of community-based sufficiency and sustainable living.