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Posts Tagged: Hmong

Hmong farmers getting help from UC Cooperative Extension to weather the drought

UCCE advisor Ruth Dahlquist-Willard (right) demonstrates how to evaluate soil moisture with a soil sampler. In the center is UCCE Hmong ag assistant Michael Yang. Ka Xiong
After the Central Valley Hmong Agriculture radio show last week, the phones at the UC Cooperative Extension office in Fresno County were buzzing non-stop with farmers anxious to apply for state grants to improve irrigation systems and energy efficiency. Michael Yang, UCCE Hmong agricultural assistant, has hosted the one-hour show each Tuesday afternoon on KBIF 900 AM for 19 years.

“Sometimes we don't see the farmers that often. They are busy on the farm,” Yang said. “But when they hear something (important) like this on the radio, they show up.”

UC Cooperative Extension office staff - including UCCE advisor Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, Yang, part time staffer Xia Chang, Fresno State student volunteer Sunny Yang, and research assistant Janet Robles from Fresno State's Center for Irrigation Technology – are working with small-scale and socially disadvantaged farmers one-on-one to line up the necessary paperwork and information to submit successful grant applications. (Read more about UC staffer Xia Chang, millennial Hmong farmer.)

“We helped eight farmers submit applications in the last two rounds, and seven received grants,” Yang said. “The money is significant.”

The grants allowed the farmers to make improvements in energy efficiency and water savings, Dahlquist-Willard said.

“This can make a huge difference for the profitability of a small farm,” she said.

The application requires energy bills from the previous growing season, a pump test and a plan for redesigning the irrigation system to result in reduced water use and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

“There are a lot of calculations to do,” Yang said. “It's very complicated, and no one is available to help underserved farmers.”

While assisting farmers with applications for other programs is not usually part of UCCE's extension efforts, the small farms program in Fresno County has identified this form of assistance as crucial to the success of small-scale and minority-operated farms.

Help with the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) grants is one in a series of outreach efforts for Hmong farmers spearheaded by Dahlquist-Willard since she was hired in 2014 to work with small-scale farmers in Fresno and Tulare counties. After just two weeks on the job, she was invited to an emergency meeting with the National Hmong American Farmers and USDA's Farm Service Agency to address the challenges faced by Hmong farmers as groundwater levels continued to drop during the drought.

“Wells were starting to dry up. Some Hmong farmers were reportedly calling suicide hotlines,” Dahlquist-Willard said. “We knew we had to take action.”

Dahlquist-Willard and her staff began researching programs that could offer the farmers financial assistance. They identified a free PG&E rate analysis, which could help the farmers choose the best electric rate for their irrigation practices to minimize charges. They searched for financing to deepen wells for farmers who had difficulty qualifying for existing USDA loans. And in 2015, they began helping farmers with applications for the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program.

The dire circumstances also prompted Dahlquist-Willard to commission a survey of Hmong farmers to see how they were impacted by the drought. Documenting their plight would be useful in seeking support. The survey was conducted in conjunction with outreach efforts with Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board and Jennifer Sowerwine, UCCE Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley. The survey was funded with a grant from the USDA Office of Advocacy and Outreach and with support from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources via Sowerwine.

Sixty-eight farmers were interviewed by phone or in-person. Twenty-two percent said their wells had dried up, and 51 percent reported a decreased water flow.

“For the ones with dry wells, it could be $20,000 to $50,000 to drill a new well,” Dahlquist-Willard said. “A lot of them cannot get access to loans.”

To deal with irrigation water limitations, some farmers told interviewers they reduced acreage or changed the time of day they irrigate. Some stopped farming all together.

“One farmer told us he was irrigating his crops with his domestic well,” Dahlquist-Willard said.

Energy efficiency programs turned out to be very important for this population of farmers. Eighty-seven percent said their utility bills increased during the drought. As a result, UCCE has been promoting PG&E programs for energy efficiency as well as the SWEEP program.

The survey also showed the power of radio in reaching the Hmong farming community. Eighty percent of the survey respondents said they were regular listeners to Michael Yang's Central Valley Hmong Agriculture radio show.

 Xia Chang: Millennial Hmong farmer

Xia Chang works with a Hmong farmer on making changes to energy billing.
Xia (pronounced “sigh”) Chang, 26, was hired in 2015 to use his Hmong language skills in collecting survey responses for UCCE. Chang was born in Thailand, and immigrated with his family to the U.S. four years later. His father cultivates Southeast Asian vegetables along with a second job at Red Lobster. Many of the nine children in the family help out on the farm.

Chang attended college, but his financial aid was depleted before he earned a degree. In addition to part time work with UCCE, Chang is now farming.

“Last year we expanded our farm from 4 acres to 14 acres, with a new three-year lease,” Chang said.

The family's many technical agricultural questions led to Chang's frequent visits to the Cooperative Extension office, and ultimately to his being hired to help conduct the Hmong farmer survey.

“I spend a lot of time speaking Hmong on this job,” Chang said. “I've had to learn a lot of new vocabulary.”

He said he's also learning a lot about new farming techniques that he wants to apply on the family farm. However, there are obstacles.

“My dad is not open to new ways because he is afraid it would not be as successful,” Chang said. “But, in everything you do, you learn.”

Chang is now looking into a career in plant sciences. He is working with Dahlquist-Willard and Kent Daane, UC Cooperative Extension biological control specialist based at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier, testing integrated pest management techniques in Southeast Asian vegetable crop production. In time, Chang plans to return to Fresno State to complete a degree in agriculture.

Posted on Monday, July 25, 2016 at 10:44 AM
Tags: drought (167), Hmong (4), Michael Yang (12), Ruth Dahlquist-Willard (7)

Upscale magazine celebrates Hmong cuisine

A brief article in this month's issue of San Joaquin Magazine gave readers a glimpse of one of the more unusual research plantings at the UC Kearney Research and Extension Center by UC Cooperative Extension small farm advisor Richard Molinar and his assistant Michael Yang.

The publication, which the title page claims "is found in affluent homes of Stockton, Lodi, Tracy, Ripon, Manteca, and Mountain House," said "evocatively-named" herbs Siberian motherwort, Vietnamese coriander, Black nightshade and Jewels of Opar and others are grown in the UC "garden" to celebrate Hmong culture.

"We want to enlighten people about these herbs," Molinar was quoted in the story.

Yang, an immigrant from Laos, explained that the preparation of chicken soup has a special significance in Hmong kitchens.

"We prepare a bundle of at least five different herbs, usually including such herbs as koj liab and pawj quaib, and simmer in chicken soup stock. It is a common practicie for Hmong women to drink this soup for the first month after they give birth," Yang was quoted.

San Joaquin Magazine.
San Joaquin Magazine.

Posted on Thursday, February 25, 2010 at 9:18 AM
Tags: Hmong (4), Michael Yang (12), Richard Molinar (16), small farms (12)

UC ag research seasons Hmong cooking feature

A plot of Southeast Asian medicinal and culinary herbs at the UC Kearney Research and Extension Center made an appearance in a Fresno Bee food story published yesterday.

The article centered on "Cooking from the Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America," a cookbook for Americans who wish to try the exotic cuisine introduced by Hmong immigrants. A large population of Hmong settled in the San Joaquin Valley after the Vietnam War. The Hmong collaborated with the CIA during the conflict and were promised protection in the event of a loss. They were ultimately relocated to enclaves in California, Minnesota and other areas.

Writer Joan Obra says some of the recipes in the new cookbook evolved from Southeast Asian traditions and others as Hmong families assimilated to American life.

The plot at Kearney, she noted, is the collaborative effort of UC Small Farm Program advisor Richard Molinar, based in Fresno, and his Hmong-descended research assistant Michael Yang.

Obra says the Hmong garden, which she recently toured, may be the only such research collection in the United States.

In fact, "(The plants) are not really common on California farms," the article quotes Molinar.

Michael Yang, left, and Richard Molinar, center, talk to a Southeast Asian farmer.
Michael Yang, left, and Richard Molinar, center, talk to a Southeast Asian farmer.

Posted on Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 11:47 AM
Tags: Hmong (4), small farms (12)

Fresno's Hmong farmer outreach on California Gold

The tireless efforts of UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor Richard Molinar and agricultural assistant Michael Yang to aid Fresno County's immigrant farmers are featured on the PBS program "California Gold" this month.

The program was previewed in the Fresno market in April, and will be aired statewide as follows:

KPBS - San Diego
8 p.m. May 7
5:30 p.m. May 9
KVIE - Sacramento
9 p.m. May 7
7 p.m. May 19
KVPT - Fresno
9 p.m. May 7
7 p.m. May 18
KEET - Eureka
12:30 p.m. May 10
KVCR - San Bernardino
9 p.m. May 7

According to the California Gold Web site, the program's host, Huell Howser, visits "two farms that are growing some of the most interesting and unusual produce in California. From a small family farm to the largest Hmong farm in the county, it’s a wonderful day."

The show is currently only available for purchase on the Web site (about $30 for video or DVD), but it appears Howser is beginning to post some of his programs for free viewing online. I'll post a link when one becomes available.


Richard Molinar, left, and Michael Yang, center, with farmer Ka Neng Vang.
Richard Molinar, left, and Michael Yang, center, with farmer Ka Neng Vang.

Posted on Tuesday, May 5, 2009 at 9:44 AM
Tags: Hmong (4), small farms (12)

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