Breaking Barriers and Building Wealth for Hmong Farmers
Hmong farmers have been transforming the local food economy in the Twin Cities since the first wave of refugees arrived from Laos and Thailand thirty years ago. From their active presence at area farmers markets to introducing new foods like lemongrass and bok choy to Minnesotans’ palates, it’s clear that they have made a big impact on local foods in our state.
Yet, for as much of an impact as Hmong farmers have made on our local growing economy, they historically have not been compensated to the same level as mainstream farmers. Enter the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA). HAFA is a member-based organization located in St. Paul, started and led by Hmong farmers, working to lift up immigrant farmers and build wealth in the Hmong community. HAFA found that on average Hmong farmers made $3,000 less/acre than mainstream Minnesotan farmers.
HAFA takes a multi-generational, holistic approach in their efforts to close this earnings gap. Pakou Hang, HAFA’s executive director, says that HAFA supports its farmers in four important ways. “Most importantly,” she explains, “HAFA farmers are part of a community with similar values and similar goals. In addition, HAFA provides its farmers with access to land and markets, business development trainings, and access to micro and matching loans.” The HAFA Food Hub was created as a way to expand the market for Hmong farmers who traditionally only sold at farmers markets. Through the Food Hub, HAFA farmers can choose to sell their produce to area restaurants and grocers, like Mississippi Market. When in season, Mississippi Market sells HAFA purple sweet potatoes and ground cherries.
HAFA is currently made up of 22 farming families, which breaks down into 128 individual farmers. Each farm is its own autonomous business; farming plots of HAFA land in the Vermillion Township. Between these farmers, they grow over 160 different kinds of produce, from carrots and kale to ground cherries and lemon grass.
When asked how HAFA determines success, Pakou doesn’t hesitate. “When kids are proud of what their parents do and are proud to trace their roots back to the farm.” By building a community around agriculture, tapping into the skills of Hmong farmers, and addressing institutional barriers such as access to affordable land and capital credit, HAFA is ensuring that Hmong farmers will continue to impact the Twin Cities local foods economy for generations to come.
Food, Farmers & Food Justice Panel
Join Pakou Hang from the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA), Deanna Abbott-Foster from Dayton’s Bluff Community Council, and Elena Gardner from Nexus Community Partners for an evening exploring food justice on the East Side of St. Paul. You’ll hear from these three incredible panelists about community wealth building on the East Side and creating a food economy that works for everyone. Produce samples from HAFA’s farm and light appetizers will be provided. This event is free but due to limited space, registration is required.
When: September 21, 6:00-7:30 pm
Where: East 7th store | 740 East 7th Street, St. Paul 55106