Mhonpaj’s Garden is a 9-acre certified organic vegetable farm owned by May Lee and her daughter Mhonpaj. With 5 acres in Stillwater and 4 acres in Marine on St. Crox, May and her family grow a variety of vegetables, bedding plants and herbs.
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. Together they resolved issues ranging from drip irrigation setup to product liability insurance to insect control.
In 2010, the Lee’s “graduated” from the MFA program and went on to become the first Hmong-owned certified-organic farm in Minnesota. May and her family now farm 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 for Ramsey County. She and her family also share their culinary heritage through cooking demonstrations and classes.
Mhonpaj and May Lee in the greenhouse