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COOPERATIVE EXTENSION PROGRAM, HELPING HMONG FARMERS BECOME MORE SUCCESSFUL IN AMERICA,
WINS NATIONAL RECOGNITION

 

Der Xiong, Immigrant Agricultural Agent (at right under tent) speaks with Hmong farmers at a Growers School.The Immigrant Agriculture Program, a cooperative effort of Catawba County Government, the North Carolina Cooperative Extension-Catawba Center and the Cooperative Extension Program at North Carolina A&T State University, has been recognized by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) with the 2014 ICMA Community Sustainability Program Excellence Award.

The Immigrant Agriculture Program works primarily with Hmong farmers living in Catawba County to help them become more successful in growing and marketing their produce. It features a Growers’ School, designed to teach participants basic production and marketing skills needed to be successful in a farming enterprise, and community gardens at the County’s EcoComplex, which provide the participants with hands-on experience with new crops, equipment and methods.

According to information at www.icma.org, the Community Sustainability Program Excellence Awards, “recognize the innovative local government programs or processes that demonstrate innovation, excellence, and success in balancing that community's social, economic, environmental, and cultural needs.” Only two programs in the United States were presented with the award this year.

The Hmong are nomadic hill-tribe farmers from Northern Laos, many of whom sought political asylum in the United States after the Vietnam War. There are roughly 3,000 Hmong living in Catawba County.

“Many of these families participating in the program have low income jobs, earning less than $50,000 per household,” said Der Xiong, Immigrant Agricultural Agent. “Many of the participating families saw an increase in their farm profitability. In 2012, the participants were able to net a total of $31,618 by implementing different techniques learned.”

One component of the Immigrant Agriculture Program consists of a demonstration site and community garden plots. To reduce barriers to land access, a three acre plot was secured at Catawba County’s EcoComplex through a partnership with Catawba County Utilities and Engineering. One and a half acres serve as a community garden for six families that produce food for their families. This has also provided an opportunity for women and men to get out, get some physical activity and socialize with other individuals in the community. The rest of the acreage is utilized as a demonstration garden.

The farmers at the demonstration site have indicated they felt having access to land and being able to farm has improved their quality of life. One farmer said, “The [demonstration] site has helped me gain more physical activity and grow food that I’m used to eating.” Another farmer at the demonstration site said that, during the months when she is raising her own crop, she sees a significant difference in the amount of money she spends because she’s raising her own produce rather than purchasing it.

“One of the biggest impacts is empowerment,” said Dr. Michelle Eley, Community & Economic Development Specialist at NC A&T. “All of the women from the program have reported that the program has given them ownership of their farm and business. As a result of this program’s success, we are exploring the opportunity to write a curriculum for other rganizations who wish to work with immigrant groups such as the Hmong. As we continueto expose Hmong families to modern, sustainable methods of farming, we anticipate an improvement in the quality of life for many of these individuals, reduction in barriers and increase in profit in the coming year.”

“We’re really proud of the work that Der does through this program, and of the positive impact it is having on the community,” said Assistant County Manager Mary Furtado, who supervises Cooperative Extension. “This initiative shows the value of a true partnership, and sets an example for how local government can meet the needs of all segments of the population with a little bit of creativity. This project is important for those reasons as well as for the support it provides to the Board of Commissioners’ goal around supporting the local food movement here in Catawba County.”

For more information on the Immigrant Agriculture Program, you may call the Catawba County Cooperative Extension Center at 828-465-8240 or e-mail dxiong@catawbacountync.gov.