Ly Vang, executive director, AAHWM, picks squash with My Lor, volunteer, and Nhia Vang Lee, farmer a participant in the Hmong Farming Project in Vermillion.
By TOM LAVENTURE
VERMILLION, Minn. (September 21, 2009) – A farmers work is never done, they say, but agency leaders, consultants, program participants and friends were able to pause on a warm, windy afternoon to celebrate the conclusion of one successful season for a pair of Hmong immigrant farmers.
The Hmong Farming Project open house celebrated the outcome of a growing season and completion of a pest control project on land operated by two farming families: Nghia Vang Lee and his spouse, Yer Vang; and the Blia Tria Lee family.
Ly Vang, executive director, Association for the Advancement of Hmong Women (651-255-0799), said the organization received a grant to help immigrant farmers improve. She said they are proud of helping farmers with this successful program, and thanked participants and consultants for support to make the project “really take off.”
Once participant farmer, Yer Vang, said that she got involved in the program after her two daughters, Mai See and Mai Nha, both present, expressed concern that she keep herself busy to stay happy. She was a farmer from the old country and not accustomed to idleness. Her daughter helped her to put together a farming plan with Ly Vang.
Mai Ker Yang, HWAT, explained that in addition to cabbage, the farmers grow assorted American, Asian and African vegetables that can grow in this climate and a way of attracting different markets. Some of the plants include Sorghum, a natural sugar plant, French potatoes, sweet potato vines, mints, cilantro, bazil, and Hmong traditional cleansing and circulatory herbs.
They are growing vegetables that provide a healthy body and spirit, according to Yang.
Jean Ciborowski, Integrated Pest Management Coordinator, Agricultural Development Division, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, said AAHWM received a grant earlier this year.
“We are working with two farms on cabbage and pest management,” said Ciborowski. “They are such good tenants. I know that they work very hard.”
The Sustainable Agriculture Grant Program allows farmers and potential farmers to partner with nonprofit groups, agricultural researchers, and educators as consultants and support to increase their knowledge and capability to develop sustainable crops through a variety of farming systems.
Since the program began in 1989, more than $2.9 million in funding was awarded to 270 projects out of 1,080 grant applications. These include specialty crops for alternative markets, different crop systems and soil fertility environments. The farms might produce switch grass to produce energy, or new varieties of fruits and vegetables, or even livestock.
Ciborowski said the project hired Kevin Cavanaugh, a plant scientist and environmental educator, and other consultants to come in and work with the farmers on methods for efficiency, safety and proper use of agricultural chemical usage, and how to maximized potential environmental and economic benefits.
Cavanaugh said that teaching farmers is important to help them not only protect their plants and environment, but to use expensive pesticides wisely. He said usually just a small amount is needed and that the expensive products don’t have a long shelf life.
Sometimes the chemicals can be purchased with other farmers to go a long way without cutting into their bottom line.
Cavanaugh said that learning proper measurements is important for farmers that may not have experience with western measurements – and with packaging that might use confusing mixtures. This is important when considering effectiveness and the prevention of chemical runoff into the water table and nearby streams and rivers.
He pointed to a trout stream adjacent to the Hmong plot as an example of why it is important that measurements are understood.
Mark Zumwinkle, an agent with the Sustainable Agriculture Program, MDR, and explained the variety of methods that the project used to see which were the most effective.
The cabbage plant is a layered bulb that can survive as usable even when pests and the environment destroys its outer layers. Once the heart of the plant is cracked or compromised by the pests, it is considered destroyed and unusable for consumption.
Natural enemies to the plant include the cabbage looper, gypsy moth, tent and the caterpillar.
The consultants talked about the importance of weeding and spacing between rows to prevent the spread of insects. They also encourage nearby rows of collard greens, serendipity or other plants that attract pests away from the cabbage.
Some of the plants were treated with dipel, a naturally occurring bacteria that is supposed kill leaf-eating caterpillars of moths and butterflies in days, and keep them from attaching to leaves and eating them during various stages of their development to adult.
Dipel is said to be harmless to other insects, birds, fish, animals and humans.
The consultants also encouraged having natural enemies of the pests that are friendly to the plants. Wasps will kill caterpillars before they emerge. Beetles and ladybugs and spiders are also good insects for gardens, they said.
In addition, some of the plants had row covers of white cloth that allows moisture through but reduces harsh light. It also prevents insects and protects against early frosts.
Others present for the event included John Xiong, a former conservation officer with the Minnesota DNR, now works as the Asian Program Manager for Technical Assistance Outreach with the USDA. He can be contacted at 651-602-7863 or [email protected]
Ms. Hli Xyooj (Xiong) of the Farmers Legal Action Group (www.flaginc.org) was also present. She said the group educates on frequent issues encountered by Hmong farmers, and helps with legal problems that can arise, such as lease issues with land owners, farmers markets, and restaurants.
Contact Hli Xyooj at 651-223-5400, or [email protected]
Also present were Michelle Wohlers, a USDA District Conservationist for Dakota and Ramsey Counties, who does outreach with immigrant farmers; Leslie Diaz Alvarex, a soil conservationist with NRCS, and Fong Her, a filmmaker who is recording the project.