Farming tradition

HAFA strives to build community wealth through the tradition of farming

The Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) farm is a different type of farm, led and created by Hmong farmers. It serves as a bridge between young and old, new world technology and ancient practices, all with the goal of advancing the social and economic prosperity of Hmong American farmers in Minnesota.

“The key to success is education,” said executive director and co-founder of HAFA, Janssen Hang.

Since its founding in 2011, HAFA has supported Hmong American farming families with a mission of growing communal success through cooperative endeavors, capacity building and advocacy.

“At HAFA we have a theory of change; how we build the capacity of our farmers and actually work toward building wealth creation,” Janssen said. “That’s our holistic approach to what we do with our work, our land activist program, our training program and our financial assistance program.”

As part of their integrated approach to community wealth building, farm members have the opportunity to lease at least five acres of land and learn skills on how to fine-tune their business and agricultural practices. At HAFA, members are more like family, with the average age of the farmers ranging from their mid-50s to 70s.  

According to Janssen, HAFA serves as a conduit for a farming community, adjusting to the cultural barriers of a country other than their own. As the son of immigrant parents from Laos, Janssen knows firsthand the issues his parents faced moving to America and how their lack of post-industrial skills led them to fall back on their traditional farming practices to care for their seven children.

HAFA’s whole food model builds community wealth

Besides supplying land and training, HAFA also helps its farmers sell their produce through the HAFA Food Hub.

From the hub, their produce is aggregated and sold to community-supported agriculture (CSA) shares, schools, institutions and retailers including Twin Cities restaurants such as Common Roots to Birchwood Café.

“Part of our whole food model is that each of these programs in itself is sufficient, but not adequate,” Janssen said. “All these components build our community wealth, and that’s what I want to lead our farmers to. It increases the self-advocacy of our farmers and empowers them to a level that they can be self-sustaining.”

In recent years, HAFA staff has introduced new agricultural practices and techniques that have allowed farmers to be profitable all year long.

According to Janssen, the HAFA team has been using research developed by colleges and universities like the University of Minnesota to grow fruits and flowers like tomatoes, strawberries and lavender during off seasons to help farmers continue to generate income. 

The importance of HAFA is its ability to combine the education and knowledge of its staff with the hard work, knowledge and skills of its expert farmers. By combining what’s old with what’s new, HAFA hopes it will diminish the disparities facing Hmong farmers so they have the same access and opportunities as the rest of Minnesota’s farming community.