Birchwood Cafe & Hmong American Farmers Association (2018 program, 2019 calendar)

With each passing year, the value of supporting family farmers in Minnesota grows in popularity and importance. Yet long before the thoughtful sourcing of food was trendy, widely promoted or streamlined, Tracy Singleton of Birchwood Cafe in Minneapolis was actively investing in family farmer partnerships, many of which have endured for decades. Meat, dairy, produce, grains – chances are pretty great the food you order at Birchwood was grown or raised by Minnesota hands.

The Hmong American Farmers Association is one group Tracy eagerly welcomed into her fold before they had a proven track record and before their organic practices became certified. Pakou Hang, founder and Executive Director of HAFA, says, “We were so excited to partner with Birchwood. Birchwood is an institution with very similar values to HAFA. Tracy and Chef Marshall care about everybody – the people who grow food, make the food and eat the food. Partnering with them also helps diversify our farmers’ incomes.”

Started by Pakou in 2011, HAFA’s mission is to advance the economic prosperity of Hmong American farmers and their families through cooperative endeavors, capacity building and advocacy. Pakou explains, “Our goal is to help our farmers build wealth, not just income. Wealth creation is both about equity and self-determination.” To build equity, HAFA farmers (over one hundred individuals) have the option to buy shares of the HAFA farmland they cultivate – land they likely couldn’t afford if farming solo. When they decide to stop farming, they can sell their shares. In this way HAFA’s cooperative model helps farmers reduce their overall risk while still engaging in great farming opportunities.

Pakou’s vision doesn’t stop there: “We also want to change the way people view Hmong farmers. We want children and grandchildren to be proud of their farming family members and see it as a noble profession that deserves honor and respect. I want them to see their family’s wealth trajectory change because of farming.”