Choua, a teacher with the Hmong Charter School in St. Paul, looks forward to planting season in spring time each year. She and her husband, Xou, found out about Minnesota Food Association (MFA) through the Hmong American Partnership (HAP) at a workshop in 2016, and in 2017 enrolled in the Organic Transitions program.
Before connecting with MFA, Choua and Xou had already started their own farming business. With four little boys to support, they needed a way to supplement their income and save up for their children’s education. Although the most experience Choua had with planting was in her mother’s garden, Xou seemed to have a natural knack for farming.
In 2014, Choua and Xou found a 3-acre plot to rent in Marine on St. Croix Minnesota with a group of Hmong farmers. After a year there, they moved their start-up operation to Vermillion, south of the Twin Cities. Both locations had been farmed for many consecutive years resulting in poor soil health, so Choua and Xou continued to look for a better fit.
In 2016, they found a 6-acre plot of land to rent on a farm near Forest Lake. They immediately formed a great relationship with their landlord, a retired farmer who became a mentor for Xou on basic tractor skills. Little by little, Choua and Xou discovered how to navigate their business partnership – Choua became responsible for all paperwork and communication, and Xou the lead on field work and equipment. They found farmers’ markets in Brooklyn Park and Pine City to sell their produce, and customer demand continued to grow.
They worried, though, about the side effects of working with chemical-based fertilizers. When they found out they could learn organic farming methods through MFA, they decided to give it a try.
In their first year of the program, Choua attended classes to learn about the record-keeping and farming practices they needed to become certified organic. In 2018, the couple left their plot in Forest Lake to farm land at MFA, in an attempt for Xou to have more access to mentors who knew the details of organic farming, and to start putting what they had learned in classes to practice. Choua and Xou grow currently on 4 acres plus cover crop
at MFA, and focus on cucumbers, zucchini, onions, bitter ball, tomato, eggplant, pepper, and ground cherries.
They are hoping to become certified organic for the first time in 2019. They continue to sell at farmers markets in Brooklyn Park and Pine City, and are also working on developing new wholesale markets through The Good Acre food hub.
Choua and Xou are hopeful to scale up their farming business, and with their
own organic certification, open up new market opportunities. Within the
next 3 to 5 years, they hope to buy farmland with a house where they
can raise their family and support themselves off the farm.