North Central SARE From the Field Profile
Award Winning Farm Family Conducts Research and Outreach on Traditional Hmong Herbs
In Minnesota, Mhonpaj Lee, NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher grant recipient, is researching and documenting information about traditional Hmong herbs. In addition to her job as a translator at Hennepin County Medical Center, Lee farms with her family. They are currently offering shares from the first certified organic Hmong owned and operated Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation.
Lee has been farming with her family throughout her whole life. Her parents became pickle farmers after arriving in the United States. Eventually, they started a small garden for growing the traditional Hmong foods and herbs. The Lees have farmed at the Minnesota Food Association since 2007, where they grow a variety of vegetables including tomatoes, bellpeppers, cucumbers, peas, and onions. In addition to their land at the Minnesota Food Association, they also grow their traditional herbs at a greenhouse inMahtomedi, MN. They sell their products at area farmers’ markets, through the Minnesota Food Association and their CSA.
In 2007, Mhonpaj Lee submitted a proposal and was awarded $6,000 from the NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher grant program to investigate and document the preparation and identification of traditional Hmong herbs.
Of particular interest to Lee are the herbs that comprise the Hmong Post Partum Chicken Herb Diet.
Lee explained that after the birth of a child, many Hmong women go on a month long chicken/herb post partum diet. The diet, which consists of 18-20specific herbs, and lean pasture raised chicken, is thought to increase appetite and provide appropriate nutrition.
After consulting with Professor Craig Hassel with the University of Minnesota Extension services to learn a process for collection and documentation, Lee beganto collect and document how some of the traditional Hmong herbs are prepared and grown. She also began collecting information about the traditionalmedicinal usage of the herbs.
Lee pressed over 18 herb varieties and planted over 30 varieties of herbs with cuttings received from her mother and grandmother, growing them from plantstarts and transplanting them. She has begun to document herb usage and the botanical names and common names. As Lee continues to research the names for the Hmong herbs, she will make identification photo cards that will indicate how to preserve and prepare the herbs, and the traditional medicinalpurpose these herbs serve.
The Lee’s farm has been gaining attention regionally. Mhonpaj Lee has hosted three city-wide workshops, and was able to contact Twin Cities Public Television to create a short segment on incorporating greens and vegetables into the diet.
She hosted a workshop at Roseville Arboretum on growing herbs. At Mill City Museum, Lee conducted a workshop on how to prepare different varieties ofHmong greens. She has been featured on Minnesota Public Radio: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2007/07/18/hmongfarming/?rsssource=1
“The SARE grant allowed us to interview, grow inside a greenhouse, and preserve the organic transplants that may carry on for the next generations,” said Lee. “In the future I would ask for other farmers to collaborate with other indigenous cultures and be open to researching these herbs together and compiling cultural ways of preparing herbals.”
This year, the family was selected as the University of Minnesota’s 2009 Farm Family of the Year for Ramsey County. The Farm Family Recognition Program has existed for over two decades and honors farm families in Minnesota for their contributions to the agriculture industry and their local communities.
Want more information? See the related SARE grant(s) FNC07-694, Nutritional Values of Hmong Plants and Herbs.
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Project products are developed as part of SARE grants. They are made available with support from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA). Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed within project products do not necessarily reflect the view of the SARE program or the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.