VERMILLION TOWNSHIP, Minn. ― The Hmong American Farmers Association is planning to buy the land that its executive director calls the "heart" of its operation.
Janssen Hang, executive director and co-founder of HAFA, said it's in the works for the group to buy the 155 acres in Vermillion Township in Dakota County that it has operated on for more than six years.
More than 100 Hmong farmers now farm the land, said Hang, and grow over 160 varieties of fruits, vegetables and flowers.
Hang said the local food economy is "pretty much predicated on small-scale producers," and that Hmong farmers are leading that sector.
Thom Petersen, Minnesota Department of Agriculture commissioner, said that some of the highest cash crops for Hmong farmers were flowers and "crops you wouldn't even think of."
"Whatever helps get people introduced to the Hmong farming community is good," Petersen said.
The land, which is about 20 minutes south of St. Paul, was bought by an anonymous benefactor in 2013 and leased to HAFA. The plan at that time was to eventually sell the land to HAFA, Hang said.
After using $2 million from the state's $1.9 billion infrastructure borrowing package that Gov. Tim Walz signed into law in October, HAFA still needs to raise $500,000 to complete the land purchase.
"This is truly exciting, and we are completely ecstatic," Hang said. "As well as it feeling kind of surreal because after all these years, this is finally happening."
Hang said HAFA will be kicking off its campaign soon to raise the remaining $500,000, which it's hoping to reach by June.
"We are completely eager and optimistic that we can do it," he said. "Especially in this time of COVID, with such a need for food access."
HAFA sees the purchase as an opportunity to "engage and continue to build the next generations of farmers," Hang said.
As for the current HAFA members farming on the land in Dakota County, Hang said purchasing the land instead of leasing it will "change their perspective."
"This will really change the landscape of how farmers see themselves and their operations," Hang said.