HAFA celebrates past work, raising funds to pay for its farm
A Nov. 18 virtual event which included speakers Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, State Representative Samantha Vang, Union Hmong Kitchen Chef Yia Vang and HAFA co-founders Pakou and Janssen Hang, celebrated the association reaching its funding goal to purchase the 155 acres it now farms on.
Earlier this month, the Hmong American Farmers Association raised its final portion of funding needed to buy a 155-acre Dakota County farm that the association has been renting for the past several years.
HAFA will continue to sublet smaller plots to Hmong farmers on its 155 acres in Vermillion Township in Dakota County that it has operated on for more than six years.
This past year, HAFA rolled out a two part, $5.22 million capital campaign to raise funds to buy the HAFA Farm, and then raise additional funds to build a year-round, washing, curing and cooling facility and office space on the HAFA site.
The last stage of the campaign was celebrated by a Nov. 18 virtual event in which Pakou Hang, co-founder of HAFA, served as the emcee.
"Thank you for your assistance to help us purchase the HAFA farm," said Hang. "Not just for our farmers, but for anyone who cares about family farms, and who cares about fair and just food systems, and who cares about making sure that we are uplifting the dignity of workers, especially farm workers."
Janssen Hang, executive director of HAFA, shared with the audience how for the past 20 years, Hmong farmers "led the local food movement in Minnesota."
"And in the revitalization of the farmers market system, with over 50% of the vendors the farmers markets are Hmong," said Janssen Hang.
But Hang said, due to a lack of access to land, long term markets, training and research and access to credit and capital, Hmong farmers were regulated to more of a "second-class status" among farmers.
"Hmong farmers were only making $5,000 an acre, while mainstream mixed vegetable producers were making anywhere from $3,000 to as much as $20,000 per acre," he said. "So in an act of self determination by our founding and farming members, the Hmong American Farmers Association was incorporated in 2011 as a membership-based nonprofit organization that worked with over 100 Hmong farmers in the Twin Cities metropolitan area."
In 2014, thanks to the support of an anonymous benefactor, HAFA members had a place to call their own with a 155-acre farm in Dakota County. The HAFA farm, which is about 20 minutes south of St. Paul, an anonymous donor purchased the land and leased it to HAFA, with the plan to eventually sell the organization the land.
More than 100 Hmong farmers now farm the land, said Hang, and grow over 160 varieties of fruits, vegetables and flowers.
"This year alone, our food hub is projecting about $500,000 in sales," he said.
Hang said that it was late 2019 when HAFA embarked on the capital campaign that was divided into two phases. After using $2 million from the state's $1.9 billion infrastructure borrowing package that Gov. Tim Walz signed into law in October 2020, HAFA still needed to raise $500,000 to complete the land purchase.
"Since then, we have diligently worked to secure funds to finalize the purchase of the HAFA farm by the end of the year," said Hang.
Another speaker at the Nov. 18 event was Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan.
"When I was invited to do this event, I jumped at the chance, because I love HAFA, and so whatever I can do to support this incredible organization, I am willing to do," said Flanagan. "The advocacy and dedication of all of the folks who are connected to the Hmong American Farmers Association is truly inspirational."
Flanagan said that when she travels across the state of Minnesota and across the country, she "brags" about HAFA.
"With more than 160 varieties of flowers, fruits and vegetables that HAFA farmers offer, you're leading Minnesota's economy," said Flanagan. "Minnesota is so lucky to have the talent, cultural traditions and diverse experiences of more than 100 farmers representing the Hmong community and Hmong members of Minnesota and Hmong Minnesotans are a vibrant part of our state overall."
She said she's "so grateful" that Hang and HAFA are involved with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture's Emerging Farmers Work Group.
"I know this is a celebration of the work that has been done, and also the work that is in front of you," she said of the event. "This didn't happen overnight, and I want to acknowledge the obstacles that you have overcome."
Flanagan said she and Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz were "so excited" to include funding to support HAFA in the bonding bill in the fall of 2020.
"Because frankly, conversations about bonding and investment have been conversations that have happened behind closed doors, and like a secret handshake, and our communities haven't been at the table," she said. "So we need to ensure that we're investing specifically, explicitly in organizations run by, and for people of color, immigrants and native folks, if we are going to change things up."