Updated on June 17, 2015
Certified Organic Workshop with Hmong Farmers in Fresno Takes Root
By Scott Chan
Very few Hmong farmers own the land they harvest on in Fresno.
Okay let me take a step back. Over the past few months, APIOPA has worked with Youa Yang (one of our soon-to-be Roots CSA farmers) and CCOF (www.ccof.org) to organize a workshop geared at teaching Hmong farmers in Fresno how to become certified organic. The workshop, which happened on February 23, 2015, was a major success, with over 25 farmers in attendance. From what I was told, it might have been the first workshop on how to become certified organic that was hosted specifically for Hmong farmers, and done in English AND Hmong. Attendees learned about the certification process, how to use organic methods to keep away pests (ladybugs are very awesome), how to lease land, and then we all went for a tour of a local certified organic farm.
Michael from USDA led translation of all workshop topics in to Hmong.
David, farmer from Adventist Academy of Fresno, is the lead farmer of a certified organic farm on the church campus. Here he is leading a tour.
What started off as a workshop to address a growing interest for many Hmong farmers we talked to though, became a shocking wake-up call for me as I spoke to farmers up in Fresno last week. Farmers do not own the land they grow on because there is very little land to be purchased in areas where Hmong communities have taken root. Most lease land, and most do so without any written contracts signed. Yes, these are contracts based solely off verbal agreements.
But before we get in to lease issues, let me repeat this important point; very few Hmong farmers own the land they harvest on in Fresno. This has major implications. If you do not own the land and only lease for short term periods (because that’s your only option), you cannot truly invest in the land you grow on. You cannot grow crops, like lemongrass, that take longer than a year to really grow out. You cannot grow trees because you might be long gone before they come to fruition. Have you ever wondered why so many Hmong farmers at you local farmers markets do not sell fruits?
As I mentioned earlier, many of the leases are 1 year contracts, done verbally. This is an issue because when there are things that need fixing on the farm, who is responsible? I spoke with a farmer who shared that a water pump needed fixing (a few thousand dollars worth of work), but because there was no written agreement, he was strong-armed in to paying to fix it even though he only had a 1 year lease. This is an issue because who is sticking up for Hmong farmers, when they’re up against rich land owners who can hire lawyers and the whatnot?
Land is an issue especially if we want to talk about the certified organic process. In order to become certified, you need to be on a plot of land for at least 3 years to get the certification, and at least 5 years to start reaping some benefits from investing in organics. It baffled me at our workshop that as we were trying our hardest to give information to these farmers of how to grow organically (which many already do but aren’t able to be certified), all the cards are stacked against them.
I left Fresno downtrodden but at the same time inspired to work twice as hard. APIOPA has built up a great network of farmers and organizations to work with about these issues, and our team has such confidence that our Roots CSA (www.rootscsa.org) work will be a medium for us to address the issues discussed in this article. Follow us on our newsletter for more updates in the months to come.