Six farmers from New Roots for Refugees loaded into a Catholic Charities bus and drove north to the 11th Annual Immigrant and Minority Farmers Conference in St. Paul, MN the last week of January. The conference was held at the University of Minnesota and organized by the Minnesota Food Association. Inspiring Confidence- Promoting Success was the theme, and the keynote speakers and workshop presenters did just that.
Robert Lor, a Hmong farmer and community leader, inspired participants with his stories of international travel where he learned from farmers all around the world. Gleaning from their practices, he strives to make his 10 acre vegetable farm as productive as possible. New Roots farmers were able to absorb successful farming practices from different parts of the world through his presentation. May Lee, the first certified organic Hmong farmer in Minnesota, shared the story of her family growing food in Laos and her mother who died of cancer related to pesticides ingested on a farm. She inspired immigrant farmers to become certified organic, using the motto “If I can do it, you can do it too.”
New Roots farmers were able to attend workshops throughout the conference, including topics such as soil health, weed management, long-term credit in agriculture, pest surveying, high tunnels and many more! Each farmer met with an interpreter before the classes began to understand what each workshop would offer and then would attend the ones that would benefit their farm business. After each workshop, New Roots farmers would gather together and share what they had learned and talked through ideas with each other.
This conference was uniquely focused on farmers who don’t speak English as a first language, so interpreters in several languages were offered at no cost. New Roots farmers were able to hear lectures, ask questions and share ideas in their native language. They were inspiring other attendees with their stories of owning their own business and land. Kansas City’s refugee agriculture movement is ahead of the curve and our farmers were able to motivate other refugees from the Midwest.
New Roots farmers came away from the conference mulling over new ideas from the workshops they attended, ignited by personal stories from the speakers and determined to make changes on their farms. Much of the bus ride home was filled with chatter of organic certification, soil health and cover crops. This year, be looking for signs of change and inspiration that was incited by this amazing conference!