Immigrant farmers try to get beyond farmers markets

May and Mhonpaj Lee

The summer farmers markets overflowing with tomatoes, greens and raspberries are just memories in our frigid winter minds. But some farmers who farm part time are using the winter to figure out how to make more money and maybe secure a profit.

Farmers May Lee and her daughter Mhonpaj plan to talk with possible new customers, including a few school districts in the coming months. They’ll also spend the time investigating how to build season-extending hoop houses.

The Lees grow 150 varieties of organic vegetables with some Hmong herbs as well.

They branched out to CSAs two years ago, selling 10 shares last year. The Lees also supplied Chisago City schools, Surdyks and managed to give away 10,000 pounds of produce to food shelves.

Meanwhile Mhonpaj works two jobs, including one as a Hmong interpreter at Hennepin County Medical Center. She says she’s like most Hmong children who help elders with farming: full-time farming may be appealing but too risky if you have to give up jobs with health benefits.

Immigrant farmers have been a presence in Minnesota farmers markets for many years, but they have been less involved in other areas of the local food movement. The Lees are an example of how barriers may be starting to fall.

You can learn more about them in my Ground Level storyhere and on MPR News’ Morning Edition today. For a lot more on local foods, check out our topic page, Local Food: What’s Next?

Comments are closed.