Day 1 of my “30 Days of MN Agriculture” is Pakou Hang. I am so excited to have Pakou as my first featured farmer. I met Pakou through the MARL (Minnesota Ag Rural Leadership) program. Pakou is very kind, smart, articulate and I am so glad I know her. I loved learning about her family and her family’s business from her. I remember the conversation I had with her while we stayed in a hostel at the Itasca State Park. We were both learning from each other — comparing how we each farm and it’s challenges.
Pakou lives in Minneapolis, but her parents grow fresh vegetables on the HAFA Farm, a research and incubator farm located at Vermillion Townships, MN.
Social Media Sites: Hmong Farmers: www.hmongfarmers.com
Tell me a little about your farm and/or business?
My parents rent 10 acres on the HAFA Farm in Dakota County. The HAFA Farm is managed by the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) which my parents helped found in 2011.
Since 1991, my parents have been selling their fresh produce at the Saint Paul Farmer’ Market. More recently, they have also been directing some production to the HAFA Food Hub which aggregates their produce with many other Hmong farmers’ produce and sells those vegetables to local schools, hospitals, colleges, retailers and wholesalers.
How long have you farmed or been in business?
My parents have been engaged in the agricultural industry since I was in elementary school. First they picked cucumbers for pickle companies and then when I was in middle school, they began to rent land and grow fresh vegetables for the farmers markets. That was over 30 years ago.
Tell me a little about what you grown/raise/produce or service provided.
My parents plant over 40 different types of vegetables. They grow staples like sweet corn to beefsteak tomatoes and Red and Yukon potatoes. But they also grow specialty items like lemon grass, ground cherries, and purple sweet potatoes.
Where do you sell or provide services to? Who is your end consumer?
My parents and I sell our fresh produce at local farmers markets and through the HAFA Food Hub. Most often, our end customers are people who care about local foods and sustainable agricultural practices.
What makes your farm/business unique or special? What are you proud of?
I am proud that our family (all the kids, the grandkids and my parents) are still able to come together every Saturday and Sunday in the summertime to sell our vegetables at the farmers markets. In that way, we are truly showing the grandkids and others what it really means to be a family: hard work, commitment and love.
Why do you grow/raise/produce? What went into your decision to do what you do?
My mother and father (Phoua Thao Hang and Wang Ger Hang respectively) of the Hmong America Farmers Association decided to work in the agricultural industry, first picking cucumbers for pickle companies and then growing vegetables for the farmers markets because they wanted a better life for their seven children.
My mom was 19 years and my dad 21 when they fled persecution in Laos and immigrated to the United States in 1976. They came to the U.S. as political refugees with my older sister who was only three years old and with me who was only 15 days old. We first settled with our sponsor in Savanah, Georgia; then moved to be with my maternal grandparents in Providence Rhode Island. We soon moved to Appleton, Wisconsin to be near some paternal cousins and then to Saint Paul, Minnesota to open a Chinese restaurant.
My parents did not speak any English when they arrived in the U.S. and over the years they earned barely enough from their factory jobs to pay for rent and food let alone raise and uplift their seven children. So they started farming in addition to working their full time jobs to earn enough money to send their children to parochial and private schools. They truly believed that the key to success was a good education.
As a result of their commitment and hard work, all seven of their children have graduated from high school, six from college, and five from graduate schools. Their children have attended the Ivy Leagues (Yale University, Brown University, and University of Pennsylvania); given commencement speeches at Georgetown University; and been featured in the Boston Globe for winning the Martin Luther King Jr. full scholarship to attend Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.
My parents did not care that they never wore brand new shoes or clothes or drove nice cars. They just worked hard and sacrificed all for their kids to one day have a better life.
If there is one thing you could change about farming it would be . . .
That it wasn’t so physically taxing.
What is one interesting fact about your farm/crops/livestock/business you would like to share.
My parents grow over 40 different varieties of produce on 10 acres.
What do you love most about farming/business?
When we were growing up, my mother loaded up all the kids every day and drove us to the garden to harvest vegetables for the farmers markets. As we picked string beans, she would tell us old Hmong folktales or we would sing church songs and be in awe at how many shades of green there were in nature. We share cooked rice and broiled meat for lunch and cut up freshly picked cucumbers to quench our thirst.
After working a 10 hour day, my dad would join us at the Hmong America Farmers Association garden and we would all continue harvesting until the sun set and we couldn’t see what was in front of us. But the chirping of the crickets and the light from the fireflies would guide us through the rows as we picked up and carried the buckets of beans and new potatoes to the van to take home to rinse and package before going to sleep. Those nights when my parents and my siblings and I all wearily drove home after a back-breaking day, those nights were magical.
What is one thing you wish consumers knew about what you do or your farm/business?
I wish our customers truly understood how much work it takes to grow our produce.
What is one thing no one knows about your farm/business/product that you would like to share?
We often do not even eat the fresh produce we grow because we are just so tired at the end of the day to cook the fresh food.
Who are your customers? Or what would you like to tell your customers?
Be kind and support a local family farmer.