By: Kristen Fedie
The Brown County Connecting for Success- Hmong Food Systems Project is one that recently developed out of a multi-year survey project conducted by Karen Early and in association with the University of Wisconsin Extension program. The project studied household food security throughout Brown County, Wisconsin, discovering that due to such factors as economic instability and a lack of access to transportation the Hmong population was disproportionately affected by food insecurity. According to statistics presented by Karen Early, 96% of the Hmong population in Brown County identified as having low or very low food security (18).
This study uncovered drastic inequalities in food access. Additionally, the study concluded that the inability to meet the most basic of food needs was extremely prevalent among the Hmong population in Brown County. According to Early, the program emerged from the desire “to provide a forum for members and community partners to take action toward improved food security and relieve hunger” (Early 7). As a result, UW Extension applied for and received a “3-year USDA Community Food Systems grant to expand and enhance elements of the local Hmong food system” (Rhodes and Joseph 5). Through the collaboration between UW Extension, community partnerships, and the USDA grant, the Hmong Food Systems Project was able to emerge, serving as a viable way in which to provide the food insecure community with both nutritious and well-balanced diets.
The Hmong Food Systems Project works to provide the population with not only access to healthy food options but also education surrounding farming and small-scale marketing. Over 200 gardeners, 80% of which are Hmong participate in the county’s community gardening program. Additionally, according to Rhodes and Joseph, “A number of projects are underway with some already completed; a shared commercial kitchen and produce cold storage, pastured poultry demonstration, expanded community garden plots, as well as integrated pest management, education on pesticide usage, produce marketing, food preservation, and food service sanitation, farmers’ market and roadside stand start-ups, and a composting video dubbed in Hmong” (5). The diversity of projects offered has proven to be central to the success of the Hmong Food Systems Project.
Through UW Extension, the Hmong Food Systems Project is also seeking to provide assistance to Hmong landowners. The project is working to educate its members on how to fully utilize their land as well as how to diversify their crops and farming operations; such changes become particularly essential when farmers are seeking to not only healthily supplement their diets but also improve their income. Additionally, “there is also a continuing effort to connect local landowners and Hmong families without land with opportunities to rent, lease or purchase of land for start-up farming operations” (Rhodes and Joseph 6). Yet another successful venture created through the programs is the formation of a Hmong Farmers Co-op that is currently pursuing funding.
The Hmong Food Systems Project has begun to expand, increasing its involvement with not only food insecure but also food secure populations throughout the Wisconsin county, bringing the community together to address food security. The Hispanic population of Brown Country, both US citizens and recent immigrants, also struggles with low and very low food security. As such, the Hmong Food Systems Project is eager to provide assistance to the county’s Hispanic population. The Hmong Food Systems Project demonstrates the various positive changes a small-scale, university extension program can incite. The project has been successful in not only providing food insecure populations with access to healthy food options but also providing education and opportunity. Although the project has been successful, its future relies heavily on both continued funding and community support.
Early, Karen. Brown County 2009 Household Food Security Report. 30 September 2010. Web. 14 March 2013. <http://www.co.brown.wi.us/i_brown/d/uw_extension/wnep/2009-brown-county-food-security-report.pdf>
Rhodes, Marla; Joseph, Hugh. January 2004. Immigrant Farming Programs and Resources: A Guide to Projects, People, Places, Publications, and Other Information on Immigrant Farming Activities Across the United States. January 2004. Web. 14 March 2013. <http://smallfarms.wsu.edu/wsu-pdfs/ImmigrantFarmingGuide.pdf>