May Lee is a farmer in Minnesota. With her daughter Mhonpaj, she operates Mhonpaj’s Garden, which produces a variety of vegetables, bedding plants and herbs for the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.
Bell peppers, cucumbers, sweet corn, tomatoes, onions and peas are just some of the vegetables on the farm. Lee says farming reminds her of her childhood.
“I am a farmer girl. I grew up in Laos. My parents had many farms, corn farm, rice paddy farm, banana and tapioca farm, sugar cane farm and taro farm. I didn’t go to school. I stayed home with my mom and dad to help take care of the farm.”
May Lee’s family began farming in the United States in 1980 and she got further training with the Minnesota Food Association (MFA).
“The MFA has a Farmer Education Program. I applied and got in the program,” says Lee. “They teach farmers how to rotate the land, how to grow certified organic vegetables, how to handle the produce after harvest as well business planning and marketing.”
Lee family became the first Hmong farmers to be certified in organic farming in Minnesota, and May Lee says that growing food without chemicals is better for farming. Mhonpaj’s Garden is also a contributor to the Big River Farms Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
Lee says fennel, zucchini and cucumbers are her favorite crops, and she also likes Tiger Eye Beans, but says they are very hard to grow.
Lee says the Minnesota Food Association has been a big help to her, and she has become a mentor to other farmers, educating them about the association’s organic practices. She and her family also share Hmong food through cooking classes and demonstrations.
“Hmong food is bland, not like spicy, peppery hot foods. Hmong make hot sauces that are served with our food on the side,” she says. “Bok choi, eggplant, and several kinds of turnips and many other vegetables we use when cooking.”
May Lee says farming is a way of life and she enjoys her work on the farm and teaching others.
“I take pride in working the land to provide food for my family and the community.”