August 09 2012

From Refugee to Refuge: The Changing Hmong Landscape in St Paul, Minnesota

The cultural landscape of the Minneapolis-St Paul metro area in Minnesota is largely influenced by historic large-scale agriculture, but that landscape is continuing to evolve to include new forms based on traditional, small-scale farming. One of the most prevalent expressions of that is the presence of Hmong farms within the metropolitan area.

Aerial view of context surrounding Hmong farm plots. Image credit: Google Earth

The Twin Cities is home to the largest concentrated population of Hmong immigrants in the USA with 64,422 reported in the 2010 census.  Farming has long been an identifying characteristic of the Hmong people who are an ethnic group originally occupying small, autonomous villages in Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. Immigration of Hmong to the US has continued since refugees of the Vietnam War began coming here in the late 1970s.  The present Hmong ethnic landscape in Minneapolis-St Paul includes a large market, various restaurants and groceries, small farming operations, and vending at many of the metro area growers markets.

Many Hmong-Americans are involved in small-scale farming enterprises on rented land because of strong cultural traditions and due to social programs that encourage agricultural entrepreneurship, including the Minnesota Hmong Farmer Outreach Project and the Minnesota Food Association.

While in Southeast Asia, Hmong farmers practiced slash-and-burn agriculture.  Markedly different from the large-scale corn and wheat farms of Minnesota, their gardens in the Twin Cities display the diverse and sustainable intercropping techniques traditional of Hmong agriculture. In addition to many common American vegetables, they also produce lemongrass, bitter melon, and exotic herbs.
Aerial view of Hmong farm plots. Image credit: Google Earth
Because many Hmong farmers do not own their farms, they can be found working next to one another on plots of rented land ranging from 3-5 acres. These plots can often be found integrated into the urban and suburban fabric of commercial and residential areas. Because of the tenuous occupation of these spaces, it is difficult to make long-term investments such as irrigation and soil improvements.  In many cases, these agro-enterprises are valuable assets to their neighborhoods and help maintain open space, which promotes ecological biodiversity.

What are some of the ethnic landscapes found in your community and how do they inspire or inform varying senses of identity?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Matthew Traucht

Matthew Traucht graduated from the University of New Mexico with a B.A. in cultural anthropology and is now pursuing his Master of Landscape Architecture at the University of Minnesota’s College of Design. Inspired by the work he was doing as an archaeologist in New Mexico where he studied prehistoric lifeways and preindustrial agricultural techniques; Matthew established an organic farm business. Eventually this led him to join the US Peace Corps where he served as a Natural Resources Volunteer in The Gambia from 2007-2009. For the last five years he has been blogging about some of his observations about the interactions between nature and culture, most recently on Desire Lines. Now, as a graduate student, Matthew is interested in sustainable communities, brownfield remediation, and historic cultural landscape preservation.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, August 9th, 2012 at 7:54 pm and is filed under Landscape Architecture, Social/Demographics, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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