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HAFA farmer takes pride in produce

Dia Her stands in front of her tool shed on her five-acre parcel of land on the HAFA farm along Highway 52. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 3
The Hmong American Farmers Association was formed in 2011 and gained access to the 155-acre farm south of St. Paul in 2013. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 3
The Hmong American Farmers Association farm, located a few minutes from Farmington, Rosemount, Vermillion and Hastings, provides 5-acre parcels of land to 25 Hmong farmers. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 3

When Dia Her walks the rows of plants on her parcel of land, plucking weeds and commenting on the size of the cucumbers, her face tells a story of pride.

She farms a 5-acre plot on the HAFA—Hmong American Farmers Association—near Vermillion and west of Hastings along Highway 52, where she grows beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, peanuts, tomatoes and flowers.

"I like to grow everything," Her said, "but I don't have enough time. I try to do it, but it is not possible."

PREVIOUSLY: Cooperative helps Hmong farmers

At first, Her had a garden in Stillwater and worked full time assembling medical equipment in Minneapolis. It was too difficult to continue two jobs, so when she acquired the parcel of land at the HAFA farm, she decided to quit her assembly job and farm full time.

"I prefer to farm," she said. "It is more flexible. I can be my own boss and have more time to myself."

Her sells produce in farmers markets in Stillwater, Minneapolis and Shakopee. She added the HAFA farm food hub to her list this year when she got help from Janssen Hang and Miguel Goebel, director of the HAFA food hub.

"It is more work to accommodate the orders with the food hub," Her said. For example, she noted that she has to pick her rows of peas every Monday and Thursday to keep up with the orders.

Working with the HAFA farm has helped Her learn more about farming. In addition to the food hub, HAFA offers training programs that have helped Her learn more about soil fertility and financial assistance that may help her buy a tractor or other equipment in the future.

"A lot of people don't like to farm," she said. "It is difficult with no tractor. It is a lot of manual work, but I enjoy it."

Her said she has enjoyed growing crops since she was a little girl. "If I am tired, and I come to the farm, I see plants growing, and it makes me feel happy. I feel healthy."

One thing that is important to Her is to help her community, to provide quality food at a good price.

"In the future, I don't want to leave farming," she said. "I want to be a farmer until the day I am no longer able to do this."

Red Wing exhibit

Red Wing Arts will sponsor a photo exhibit titled “Seeds of Change: A Portrait of the Hmong American Farmers Association” at the Red Wing Depot, 418 Levee St., from Aug. 10-Sept. 23.

The photographs and books in the show were created by multimedia artist Mike Hazard. The exhibit is organized by the Minnesota Museum of American Art and has been on tour since 2016, showing at the Minnesota Museum of American Art, the Minnesota State Capitol Building, the Hastings Art Center and the University of Minnesota-Morris. Red Wing is the final stop on the schedule.

“Red Wing Arts is pleased to collaborate with the Minnesota Museum of American Art on the upcoming Seeds of Change exhibit,” wrote Lacy Schumann and Emily Guida from Red Wing Arts. “This is our first time working with MMAA, and we are excited to bring this caliber of exhibit to our community. The exhibit provides a look into the daily lives of the Hmong farming community and culture, a co-op community not far from Red Wing; one that the residents here may refer to as ‘the farms on your way to the Twin Cities with the red sheds.’  Mike Hazard spent three years photographing the community, documenting their daily lives. The intimacy captured in these photographs tell a story our visitors are sure to appreciate.”

The exhibit will be on view Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to  5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Hazard also produced a five-minute video called “We Go to The Garden,” a tribute to the HAFA Farm, which can be seen at https://vimeo.com/162004831.

Steve Gardiner

Steve Gardiner taught high school English and journalism for 38 years in Montana and Wyoming.  He started working at the Republican Eagle in May 2018.  He focuses on features and outdoor stories.  

(651) 301-7872
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