The student news of St. Paul Academy and Summit School

The Rubicon

The student news of St. Paul Academy and Summit School

The Rubicon

The student news of St. Paul Academy and Summit School

The Rubicon

History and science classes take their learning off campus

Thunder. Wind. Rain. Farming doesn’t stop because of a rainy day, nor does the path of migration or the student’s thirst for knowledge.

On Sept. 29, History of Refugee Communities and Environmental Science classes took a field trip to the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) to learn more about the Hmong community and their agricultural way of life. Minnesota was washed by rain, but the weather conditions improved in the afternoon. Although the grounds were a bit muddy, students were able to continue their field trip as planned.

Founded in 2012 by the Hang siblings (Janssen Hang and Pakou Hang), HAFA is a non-profit organization that provides Hmong farmers access to essential resources such as land, materials, and tractors, enabling them to flourish and take ownership of their work.

Previous to the establishment of HAFA, white farmers would exploit land prices in addition to the unreasonable demands of sharecropping. Hmong farmers would have inconsistent relationships with the land and not be able to grow plants such as asparagus/trees/nuts that could grow year after year. “A lot of these farmers are immigrants who don’t know how to use their rights. So others saw them as vulnerable and an opportunity to take advantage,” junior Mason Hang, son of Janssen Hang HAFA co-founder, said.

Overseeing 155 acres of land, HAFA was one of the first organizations to own farmland in MN as farmers of color. Here, Hmong families have the opportunity to lease land, practice farming, and market their produce through the HAFA Food Hub. The Hub then sells farmer’s products through HAFA’s Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) to pack vegetable boxes. Today, Hmong American farmers are at the forefront of leading the Twin Cities’ food economy, providing a fair food economy for all.

“Hmong culture is really tied to place, and the place that they were tied to is agricultural. They came to this metropolitan area and found a niche for themselves in our food,” Mollie Ward, the History of Refugee Communities teacher, said. HAFA united the Hmong community, enabling them to sustain their agricultural practices in Laos.
Hang sometimes helps out with the farm and knows the basics. He learned how to read soil and understand what specific species will grow better in sandy or clay soil. “My grandpa continues farming, and my mom began farming this year, so agriculture is a significant part of our lives. We wake up as early as five and all work together. Carrying on the tradition of growing your own crops and food that you know you have to work hard to earn what you desire,” Hang said.

Andrea Sachs, a history teacher on medical leave, was friends with Pakou Hang. Their friendship started HAFA and SPA’s first partnership six to seven years ago.

We learned more about the HMong community in MN rather than the refugee experiences: how Minnesota changed the HMong and how the HMong changed Minnesota.

— Mollie Ward

During the field trip, students listened to a presentation and walked around the farm, learning the Hmong histories of migration to their agricultural ways of farming. Students learned who the Hmong elders were, who grew up in Laos, and why agriculture was crucial to Hmong heritage. “We learned more about the Hmong community in MN rather than the refugee experiences: how Minnesota changed the Hmong and how the Hmong changed Minnesota. [The] Hmong brought seeds with them from Laos that they’d held on during [refugee] camps, and they have found a way like the farmer’s markets to flourish with the influx of Hmong farmers,” Ward said.

Students visited outdoor fields that occupied vegetables such as eggplants, cabbages, and asparagus and looked at various tunnels that stored fruits like strawberries and tomatoes. In the past, students also had the opportunity to pick some fruits, throw out compost, and clear invasive species.

Learning can take various forms. Beyond readings, discussions, and videos, hands-on activities that extend beyond the classroom offer students a fresh perspective to explore.

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Rita Li, Creative Design Manager
My name is Rita Li (she/her) I work as Creative Design Manager for The Rubicon online. At school, I’m involved in tennis, ping pong club, and ASA. I love trying random food combinations. I can be reached at [email protected].

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