Immigrant farmers on the lookout for land

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Kayoua Vang tends to her vegetables on a patch of Eagan farmland in July 2010. (MPR file photo/Jeffrey Thompson)

Got farmland?

Then you might be a match for scores of immigrant farmers in the Twin Cities metro area who are once again in need of land to rent or purchase. They’re looking for parcels as small as two to five acres, within about a 30-minute drive from the central cities.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture estimates there are about 200 immigrant and minority farmers on a waiting list to secure land for this year’s growing season. Many of them are Hmong or other Southeast Asian produce growers who fill our farmers markets with fresh fruits and vegetables and help fuel the local-foods craze.

Despite the crunch, there is still plenty of farmland in the fast-developing Twin Cities. In fact, about half of the seven-county metro region is considered agricultural or undeveloped. (See the Metropolitan Council’s table on land uses here.)

But that land doesn’t appear to be accessible to smaller farmers.

One factor is rising prices for some traditional Minnesota crops. Some property owners who have rented out smaller parcels to the Hmong growers in years past are now returning to their normal soybean and corn crops, said Pakou Hang, founding director of the Hmong American Farmers Association.

That means Hmong growers who may have been accustomed to cultivating the same patch of land every year now need to look elsewhere, she said.

“If small farmers don’t have access to land, they’re not going to be selling fresh produce to the farmers market, or selling fresh produce to our local schools,” said Hang, who comes from a farming family. “What does that do to our larger food economy?”

Another consequence of the rising commodity prices is higher rents, she said, putting the parcels out of reach for smaller growers. Hang also knows of a few farmers who were squeezed out of their leases on a 11-acre parcel in Woodbury after it fell into foreclosure.

It’s worth pointing out that even though much of our metro region remains agricultural, there’s no question that the disappearance of farmland is much more pronounced in certain areas.

Paul Hanson, a GIS specialist with the Metropolitan Council, offers these two glimpses showing land-use changes in the city of Woodbury, where agricultural land decreased by 25 percent from 2000 to 2010.

This first image shows what the city looked like in 1990. The greenish-yellow hue represents agricultural or undeveloped land, and the paler yellow is residential.

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Compare that with 2010:

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If you have land available for rent or purchase, call the Hmong American Farmers Association at 651-493-8091 or email janssen@hmongfarmers.com.

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