VERMILLION, Minn. (WCCO) – Thousands of us pass its lush greenery every day. Situated along both sides of State Highway 52, just south of Coates, are the fenced-in fields of row crops – a 155-acre farm feeding the demand for fresh produce.

“This is the HAFA farm,” Jannsen Hang explains.

Hang is co-founder and soon to be executive director of the Hmong American Farmers Association. It is a nonprofit collection of 25 member families who lease a plot of land on which to plant.

Of the 17 families who currently tend the soil, they will grow roughly half of all produce that is sold in Twin Cities area farmers markets. In addition, their flowers, fruits and vegetables supply 144 area schools and many local institutions. The HAFA food hub also supplies an additional 300 shares in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.

“Our mission is to advance the economic, social and cultural prosperity of Hmong Americans and their families,” Hang said.

Many of those families settled in Minnesota as refugees of the Vietnam War during the 1970s and early 80s. For most, they arrived with few possessions and little more than an incredible knack for growing food.

“This is a skill set that they built to survive in Laos and Thailand,” Hang said.

But it’s not just produce that’s grown on the HAFA farm. This time of year, there is an explosion of color. Yes, the bouquets you see at farmers markets are with flowers grown in their lush fields.

Tending to their crops, they’ll spend 10-14 hours each day in the fields. Weeding, watering, hoeing and harvesting, they’ll care for 160 different varieties of crops – from the typical tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and corn to the more exotic and unexpected.

“You also see sweet potatoes and peanuts, which aren’t typically grown in Minnesota, right?” Hang said.

If anyone can do it, they’ll do it here, where after a soggy and cool start to the season, the bounty is coming in as beautiful as ever.

For more information on HAFA, visit the nonprofit’s website.

Bill Hudson

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