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HAFA farm wins 2016 Farm Family of the Year

Mao Moua picks mint leaves from her 5-acres of crops. Star Gazette photos by Michelle Wirth

The Hmong American Farmers Association Farm (HAFA), a 155-acre research and incubator farm in Vermillion Township, is being honored as a 2016 Farm Family of the Year by the University of Minnesota.

“It is very humbling, especially because we didn’t expect it at all,” said Pakou Hang, executive director and co-founder of HAFA. “We were just trying to do the right thing when it comes to being good land stewards.”

One way HAFA tries to implement sustainable farming practices is by educating their farmers with workshops on topics like soil health, good agricultural practices, food safety protocols and Integrated Pest Management. However, Hang said a lot of it already comes naturally to them.

Many HAFA farmers harvest their crop for local farmers markets. Red scallion onions are pictured.“In many ways we are not teaching the farmers, this is how they have always farmed,” Hang said.

She said the farming techniques at HAFA promote a robust ecosystem. Some of those techniques include intercropping, crop rotation, cover crops, farming on the contour and encouraging good bugs and a healthy ecosystem.

One example of a sustainable agriculture technique is planting dill next to potatoes. Hang said the bugs around the dill might eat the bad bugs around the potatoes.

Hang said the farm produces over 162 varieties of vegetables, flowers and fruits. This includes watermelon, Chinese long beans, cilantro, okra, ground cherry tomatoes, strawberries, asparagus, gooseberries and sunflowers, just to name a few.

The farm is split into 5- and 10-acre parcels for Hmong farmers to lease. Hang said they offer 10 year leases for the farmers so that they know they will have land the next year. This year, HAFA has 18 families using the farm.

A HAFA member tends to his plot of land with a tilling machine.Mau Moua is one of those farmers. She has a 5-acre plot of land where she grows crops like potatoes, soy beans, Brussels sprouts, mint leaves and more.

“(HAFA) helps us out a lot,” she said.

Moua said the farm offers water, a shed for them to place their tools, restrooms and more. She said she is out there everyday and her family helps after their day jobs and on the weekends.

Although HAFA consists of separate families farming different sections of the land, Lucas Altwegg from the Natural Resource Conservation Service in Farmington, Minnesota, said they are a tight knit group that welcomes visitors with open arms.

Altwegg, who works with HAFA on resource concerns at the farm, said the farm works hard to produce for the local community with an openness to the public with their open houses, festivities and farm tours.

The demonstration high tunnels are used for training programs and workshops.“They provide outreach to the surrounding community and insight into the life of HAFA Farm and its operations,” he said.

Hang said she is really grateful for the local communities who have supported the farm.

“We’ve tried to be good neighbors and been blessed to have supporters in the community,” she said.

HAFA is one of eighty-one Minnesota families being honored for Farm Family of the Year 2016. The ceremony will be Aug. 4 at 1:15 p.m. at the annual Minnesota Farmfest on the Gilfillan Estate near Redwood Falls in the Wick Buildings Farmfest Center.

Michelle Wirth

Michelle Wirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2013 with a degree in journalism and web design. She worked as a web content editor for a trade association before coming to the Hastings Star Gazette in 2016.

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