The Minnesota Farm Service Agency (FSA) wants to overcome the obstacles faced in reaching minority farmers and ranchers. So they have collaborated with area businesses and non-profit organizations to help meet their goal.
“We realize that this will not be a fast process but we are hoping to make steady progress,” said FSA State Executive Director Linda Hennen.
Minnesota FSA has teamed up with AgStar Financial Services and Farmers Legal Action Group (FLAG), to provide capital to small and socially disadvantaged producers that want to start or expand their agricultural operation. AgStar set aside $2 million toward the initiative and has been working with FSA to reach the minority population in the state.
“Here in Minnesota, the majority of farmers producing fruits and vegetables are minority populations and primarily Hmong,” said Hennen. “There is a great deal of government distrust [among this population] that needs to be overcome, but we can only do that one person at a time.”
Hmong people are of Southeast Asian descent and settled in Minnesota and other parts of the United States following the communist takeover in Laos in the 1970s. The largest Hmong-American community is in Saint Paul, Minn., and more than 260,000 Hmong-Americans live in the United States overall.
Earlier this month, the FSA-led team reached seven Hmong families through a Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) sign-up day held in St. Paul. Most Hmong farmers live near the city and were provided shuttle service to the downtown office where the event was held.
Hmong farmers gathered with three FSA staff members and members from the Association for the Advancement of Hmong Women in Minnesota. An interpreter was also present to help the farmers complete applications.
“It was an approach that proved to be very successful,” said Glenn Schafer, executive officer with the Minnesota FSA.
Producers also appreciated the special attention provided to help them understand the program and application process.
“I was pleased that the NAP sign-up was held in St. Paul and happy for the great customer service,” said Vue Xiong, a Hmong farmer who attended the event and enrolled in the program.
Even with the success of that program, Hennen said the agency still has a long way to go to gain the trust and reach the hundreds of minority farmers eligible for FSA programs.
“Even with much help, it took eight hours to sign up seven families,” said Hennen. “A great deal of explanation goes into each sign-up and many [producers] do not have good record keeping skills. If they do have records, they are very reluctant to share them with anyone outside of their community.”
Hennen said that traditional barriers to assistance, such as language and cultural barriers, are coming down thanks to FSA’s targeted outreach. Not only are minority farmers made aware of programs and provided assistance to apply, they are also offered courses on how to effectively manage their operation.
“We hope to do more than just provide the funding. We hope to offer assistance in the form of financial classes, basic production advice and record keeping,” said Hennen. “Producers need this level of support in order to obtain continuing credit for annual operations.”
The partnership with AgStar is expected to move the agency one step closer to its goal of reaching more minority farmers and ranchers with improved service. AgStar has worked with Minnesota FSA through the guaranteed loan program for several years. In response to the growing demand for locally grown food, the company saw an opportunity to work with FSA to meet the needs of minority farmers who are the agricultural backbone for locally-grown food in Minnesota.
“We have always had a great working relationship with AgStar,” said Hennen. “We want to reach as many producers as we can who want to expand their operation to other land. We are starting to see small numbers of successes and we hope to keep that going.”