Mhonpaj’s Garden is a long-time vendor at the Mill City Farmers Market. This certified-organic farm is owned by mother-daughter duo May and Mhonpaj Lee. They grow a variety of vegetables using organic practices for pest and weed management as well as practicing soil conservation, sustainable water usage and the many other things encompassed in USDA Organic Certification.
In 1980, May, her husband, their children and May’s mother immigrated to the United States from Loas as refugees. They found work farming conventionally, but when May’s mother was diagnosed with cancer after working with pesticides in the United States, May knew she needed to start farming organically.
May’s daughter Mhonpaj was connected with the Minnesota Food Association (MFA) and learned about their New Immigrant Agriculture Program (now called the Farmer Education Program). They were accepted into the three-year program, which gave them access to the MFA’s 60-acre certified organic incubator farm and connected them with a Hmong-speaking coordinator who helped them find resources and answer questions about organic farming. Together they resolved issues ranging from drip irrigation setup to product liability insurance to insect control.
After “graduating” from the MFA program, Mhonpaj’s Garden went on to become the first Hmong-owned certified organic farm in Minnesota. May and her family now farm 9 acres of leased land along the St. Croix River.
In addition to farming, May spends lots of time educating other growers about organic practices through the MFA and as a Master Gardener volunteer. She and her family also share their culinary heritage through cooking demonstrations and classes.
You can find May along with her children (and sometimes grandchildren!) at the Mill City Farmers Market, 704 S. 2nd St., every Saturday from 8 a.m.–1 p.m. with seasonal vegetables, bedding plants, dry beans and more!