By Amy Johnson, Fundraising and Climate Change Intern
Since 2003, the National Hmong American Farmers (NHAF) has been working to preserve farm culture and promote economic self-sufficiency among Hmong-American and other immigrant and ethnically underrepresented farmers. Providing services to farmers in both California’s Central valley and across America, NHAF believes that ensuring the success of the small farmer while maintaining culturally and environmentally friendly farming is a benefit to us all.
Carrying on a rich cultural tradition of farming, many Hmong continue to make their living today farming in the United States. They can be found growing a diverse array of specialty crops such as ginseng, chilies, bitter melon, bock choy, daikon, Thai eggplant, and lemongrass. In order to support these and other small and ethnic minority farmers, NHAF provides technical assistance to over 500 farmers in the areas of marketing, business workshops, tax preparations, farm laws, labor laws and regulations, labor management, and managing diseases and nematodes, and insects. In addition to technical support, NHAF holds an annual conference in Fresno to bring farmers together in order to build partnerships and showcase innovative new farming strategies, services and programs.
This year was the 6th Annual NHAF Conference and was cosponsored by Latino, African American, and Filipino farmers. Farmers from as far as Laos and Korea traveled to Fresno to convene with farmers from all over the United States. The convening provided a space for the farmers to begin a conversation about the shared obstacles of learning the US agricultural system, and how to handle “falling through the cracks” when it comes to receiving support for their farming business.
I had an opportunity to speak with Chukou Thao, Executive Director of NHAF about the 6th Annual NHAF Conference that was held on April 30th. He reported that the event was a huge success thanks to the high level of participation from all who attended. Nearly 300 people were present, including international farmers from Laos and Korea, domestic farmers from California and as far away as Washington and North Carolina, CFJC staff, as well as representatives from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
This year’s keynote speaker was Ken Johnson, who is currently Director of Civil Rights Diversity and Inclusion (OCDRI), and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services at the USDA. Ken’s knowledge of importing, exporting, and domestic agricultural policy helped connect the farmers in the room who came from different states and countries. The USDA from D.C. and California participated with flexibility that really worked well with the farmers, and helped to create an atmosphere where the farmers felt comfortable interacting, regardless of their differences. Chukou said, “It was exciting to get all of these people from different backgrounds together so they can organize and really have one voice in the issues they are collectively facing.”
I asked Chukou if there were any issues local farmers were facing that he wanted to talk about. He mentioned that farmers in California’s Central Valley are still facing challenges from the drought. They are in the midst of a level 4 drought, and have lost two harvests now. He said that big Ag dominates in the area, and the little guys really get pushed under the rug. At the end of our interview, Chukou noted that as Central Valley farmers continue to lose their harvests because of the drought, spaces such as the NHAF Conference are critical for small family farmers to have their issues heard.