VERMILLION, Minn. — For years, Hmong farmers have been renting land off of Highway 52 in Vermillion Township to produce a variety of crops. Now though, a group has come together to purchase 155 acres of farmland. The Hmong American Farmers Association says this is a first... not just in Minnesota... but nationwide.
Farmer Tsai Hang told KARE 11 through a translator that she first lived in California but moved to Minnesota about eight years ago after connecting with HAFA. Today, she grows flowers as well as corn, green beans, cabbage, parsley, tomatoes and other vegetables.
"I really like this land and this area and I love farming," she said.
Director of operations David Kotsonas says around 16 Hmong families are HAFA members. Now, they're all owners of the land where they've farmed for years.
"This is the first … Hmong-owned and Hmong-operated farm in the country and so we're really proud of that," Kotsonas said. "It's also the only minority-owned farm on that strip of Highway 52 between St. Paul and Rochester."
Kostonas says 125 of the 155 acres are tillable. Currently, produce from the farm goes to farmers markets and what's called "community supported agriculture," a seasonal subscription service. The farmers even supply for a program called Veggie Rx sponsored by M Health Fairview.
"The doctors prescribe fresh fruits and vegetables to lower-income patients who are maybe suffering from diabetes or obesity," Kostonas explained.
Previously this was all done while paying rent.
"Most of the time, Hmong farmers are renting land on a year-to-year basis so there's … no real reason to invest in the soil health," Kostonas said.
HAFA's founder and other supporters secured grants and raised money from the community to purchase the land. The group says it will now be able to expand production and grow specialty crops. They hope to obtain additional grant money to plant 1,000 fruit trees.
"I am very happy and very excited because it gives me an opportunity to farm longer," Hang said. "Although, I'm getting older. Age may stop me [but] I'm still excited we purchased the land."
HAFA plans to soon host a celebration and blessing of the land alongside Hmong community leaders.
There is a chance about 20 percent of the newly purchased land will be taken over for highway construction. There are two proposed projects and decisions are expected by the end of the year. Feedback may be submitted on the Dakota Co. website.
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