“Ecstatic to have this land to farm on.” A Hmong farm in Dakota County is saved by bonding bill
The roar of Highway 52 in Dakota County is just a right turn from a rural enclave.
“This is a collective farm of Hmong farmers,” says Janssen Hang, the co-founder and executive director of the HAFA farm in Vermillion. “A collective farm is working in community with one another.”
The 155-acre property is owned and operated by the Hmong American Farmers Association, or HAFA, for short.
We asked Walee Xiong what it means to farm this land.
“I am extremely happy and ecstatic to have this land to farm on,” he says, through an interpreter.
Xiong, 64, is among 100 Hmong farmers and 24 families, growing corn, tomatoes and dozens of other crops that are sold in metro area farmer’s markets.
Xiong says he’s been farming here for the past seven years, after leaving his native Laos in the mid-1970s.
“Two years ago, I had retired and since retiring this land has been a lifesaver for me,” he exclaims. “Keep myself occupied as well as generate income for me and my family.”
Since 2021, growers here have been concerned about the construction of an interchange at County Road 66.
HAFA farmers say the project, proposed by Dakota County, would take up to 20 acres of their property, displacing five families.
“I was worried because if they took land, there wouldn’t be enough land for us to farm on, and that could definitely jeopardize our family income,” Xiong says.
Hang says the state already gave the farm a $2 million grant to purchase the land in 2020.
Before that, starting in 2014, an anonymous benefactor had leased the property, with an option to buy later.
This past May, there was more good news.
Hang says state lawmakers approved a bonding bill, preventing any local government from forcibly taking the land for the highway project.
“We had put in an amendment to the farming bill that would prevent state, county, and also municipalities from taking the land by eminent domain,” he explains.
The proposed interchange was not cheap — with a $35 million price tag.
In February, the Dakota County Board of Commissioners decided it was too expensive to build without outside funding.
The county says design studies on the project are currently stopped.
Hang says in any case, eminent domain is no longer on the table.
“It provides land security to not just Hmong farmers, current Hmong farmers, but also future generations of young Hmong farmers, or BIPOC, immigrant, and small-scale special producers,” he notes.
Hang says the state measure will ensure growers at the HAFA farm can continue supplying farmer’s markets in the metro.
Currently, he says Hmong farmers provide one million pounds of produce to Minnesota farmer’s markets each year.
“It’s not just a HAFA farm, but it’s a community farm. It’s a collective farm,” Hang says. “A collective, not just for farmers, but a collective in the community so that everybody can have a piece of this.”