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Singing Hills Dairy one step closer to becoming Lor family farm

A partnership between Renewing the Countryside and American Farmland Trust has made it possible for Lynne Reeck to retire from her operation and for the Lor family to be the new owners of the land.

Lor family
Bao Xiong, Kue Lor and Ka Lor
Contributed by Renewing the Countryside
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Editor's note: This is part two in a continuing series on the transition of Singing Hills Dairy.

NERSTRAND, Minn. Lynne Reeck can finally retire from farming and the Lor family is one step closer to having a farm to call their own, in what Renewing the Countryside calls the first “community-supported farmland easement” in Minnesota.

Singing Hills Dairy, a small goat cheese dairy farm, was owned and operated by Reeck for nearly 25 years. In 2018 she realized the work to keep up the operation was too much for her to sustain, and she's been looking to transition the land to another farm and avoid it from being developed for something else ever since.

With help from Renewing the Countryside and American Farmland Trust, the process of transitioning from Reeck to the Lor family is coming together. The transition has been possible so far because of an innovative model which includes placing a farmland easement on the land.

Part one of the transition involved Reeck selling the farm, which took place officially on March 24. The farm was sold to American Farmland Trust, enabling her to retire from farming.

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Reeck farm transition.jpg
Lynne Reeck, owner and operator of Singing Hills Dairy, points to the pasture which she raised a small goat herd on since 2009. Photo taken on Jan. 7, 2022.
Noah Fish / Agweek

"We're extremely grateful for her patience through this process and for her commitment to a more sustainable and equitable Minnesota," said Jan Joannides, executive director of Renewing the Countryside. "Please join us in wishing her a healthy and fulfilling next chapter in her life."

The next parts to the transition are interim ownership, a land easement and then any final hurdles, said Joannides. The interim farm owner will be American Farmland Trust, in order to place an easement on the land that will keep it farmland. The easement also makes the land affordable for the Lor family to purchase at market price.

"It's exciting to see this project nearly completed, but our work isn't done yet," said Joannides.

So far, Renewing the Countryside has received support from donors to raise $127,000 of the $150,000 needed to cover the easement. Joannides said they will continue to raise the remaining funds until the Lor family can begin their new lives stewarding the land.

"We need $23,000 to get us across the finish," she said.

The Lor family

The Lor family belongs to more than 66,000 Hmong in Minnesota, with the Twin Cities metro being home to the largest concentration of Hmong in the United States. First generations began coming to Minnesota in 1975 as refugees from the destructive wars in their homelands in Laos.

In Laos, Kue Lor said acquiring farmland was a different story than it is here.

"In Laos, you had to do everything by hand," said Kue Lor in a video released by Renewing the Countryside and produced by Free Truth media . "You had to cut down your own trees, burn the land, and then using a stick make a hole in the ground and plant a seed like that."

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He moved from Laos to Thailand, but as a refugee, he was not able to farm there.

"When we first came to the U.S., we rented our first home, then we went out to rent a plot of land to farm," he said. "And we've been growing ever since."

He said at first they farmed just to feed their family, but in 2000 they began selling at farmers markets. The family's main crops are now strawberries, asparagus, bell peppers and bulb onions.

Ka Lor, daughter to Kue Lor and Bao Xiong, said her family came to the country with not a lot of money, and could never purchase their own land. Kue Lor said that they've rented so many different plots of land in Minnesota that they've lost count.

Bao Xiong and Ka Lor
Bao Xiong and Ka Lor
Contributed by Renewing the Countryside

"I think the biggest problem right now is when people rent you the land, they don't have to give you enough notice that someone else is buying the plot of land, and they're kicking you out," said Ka Lor. "That means that you have to lose a lot of your seedlings, and your produce there. So it's really hard to move from one land to another, in such a short amount of notice."

Bao Xiong said one time they were forced off farmland they rented and lost 30,000 asparagus and strawberry plants. An estimated loss of around $5,000, she said.

"Which is a lot of money to go to waste," said Bao Xiong.

Ka Lor said the family can raise more acres on the Singing Hills land, and plan to expand business to more restaurants and other farmers markets.

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"A benefit of owning the land is that Singing Hills has high quality soil type, which is very good for crop life," said Kue Lor.

Joannides said while not on the farm yet, the Lor family has already begun growing seedlings indoors and will be breaking ground on the land in May. She said they are looking forward to planting apple trees and other perennials that they've never been able to plant before due to their lack of long-term access on the land they had farmed.

Noah Fish is a multimedia journalist who creates print, online and TV content for Agweek. He's also the host of the Agweek Podcast.

While covering agriculture he's earned awards for his localized reporting on the 2018 trade war, and breaking news coverage of a fifth-generation dairy farm that was forced to sell its herd when a barn roof collapsed in the winter of 2019. His reporting focuses on the intersection of agriculture, food and culture.

He reports out of Rochester, Minnesota, and can be reached at nfish@agweek.com
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