Mhonpaj’s Garden is a 9-acre certified organic vegetable farm owned by May Lee and her daughter Mhonpaj (the farm’s namesake). With 22 acres in Hugo, MN and additional plots in Stillwater and Marine on St. Croix, May and her family grow a variety of vegetables, bedding plants and herbs offered through their CSA share and at markets.
In 1980, May, her husband Chue, 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). The Lee’s were accepted into the three-year program, which gave them access to the MFA’s 60-acre certified organic incubator farm, Big River Farm, and connected them with a Hmong-speaking coordinator who helped them find resources and answer questions about organic farming.
In 2010, Mhonpaj’s Garden became the first Hmong-owned certified organic farm in Minnesota, and May and Mhonpaj continue to be leaders in the organic and emerging farmer communities. Both serve in leadership roles at the Emerging Farmers Conference and in numerous other ways supporting small farmers. Mhonpaj is a Realtor, helping farmers navigate land access, and May educates the community as a Master Gardener volunteer for Ramsey County and as Farm Operations Specialist at Big River Farms. She and her family also share their culinary heritage through cooking demonstrations and classes.