The Hmong American Farmers Association has been farming on land in Dakota County since 2013. Recent legislation prevents the government from forcibly taking some of the land for use in a highway expansion project. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

The future of a Dakota County farming collective run by Hmong American families is secure thanks to recently passed legislation.

The state bonding bill that passed last week will protect the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) Farm by preventing local government from forcibly taking some of the land for use in a highway expansion project.

The 155-acre sustainable farm is a leading source of produce for metro-area farmers markets, school districts, and hospitals, according to a news release from HAFA and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA).

“I’m completely relieved,” said Janssen Hang, executive director and co-founder of HAFA. “All this was always a concern to our founding members.”

The farm has been leasing land to Hmong farmers since its founding in 2011. As of 2023, 24 families use the farm, which also includes research and demonstration plots for continuing education.

HAFA is a membership-based non-profit organization that owns the farm located about 15 minutes south of St. Paul. HAFA Farm is the first nonprofit farm in the country owned and operated by Hmong Americans.

Hmong farmers had been worrying about losing their land to the highway expansion project since 2021.

Hang said members were “jumping with joy” at the news that they wouldn’t be losing land.

The new legislation guarantees that an expansion project under review for Highway 52 will not include the construction of an interchange at County Road 66 that would remove land from cultivation at the HAFA Farm.

Construction in the area would have erased entire family farms from the HAFA land, and would have “severely disrupted the hydrology and ecosystem of the farm collective, and harmed the South Branch of the Vermillion River, a resource that has been protected by HAFA and the State of Minnesota,” said the news release from HAFA and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy worked with HAFA on the legislation, which was authored by Representative Fue Lee, DFL-Minneapolis.

“We saw from these past few years that access to local food is critical for a thriving community.

By preserving the HAFA Farm, this will ensure that the Twin Cities’ metropolitan community has access to locally grown, fresh fruits and vegetables,” Hang said in the news release.

Hang told Sahan Journal Tuesday that the land’s continued ownership through the collective will allow future generations to continue their families’ farming traditions.

“Farming or agriculture in the Hmong community is part of our tradition,” Hang said. “Our events heavily revolve around the agricultural calendar.”

Hmong farmers like members of the HAFA Farm make up the majority of vegetable growers at the St. Paul Farmers Market, and more than half of growers at farmers markets in the metro area, according to the news release.

Hang said there’s been a resurgence of interest in farming among younger Hmong generations in Minnesota, where the majority of farms are owned by white farmers.

“I’m very optimistic in knowing that the land security has a big impact to kind of create a pathway for even new incoming emerging farmers,” Hang said.

HAFA also secured $2 million in the state’s transportation bill for construction of a box culvert under the highway that’ll help increase the safety for farmers and others who need to cross the highway, according to the news release.

Alfonzo Galvan is a reporter for Sahan Journal, covering work, labor, small business, and entrepreneurship. Before joining Sahan Journal, he covered breaking news and immigrant communities in South Dakota,...