Fellowship hopes to spur a new generation of Minnesota cooperatives

For 20 years, Janssen Hang’s family has made a living by farming rented land around the Twin Cities. But since the family never owned their own land, they often had to move between several different parcels, never fully reaping the benefits of their labor.

The result, Hang said, was that his family, like many other Hmong families who supported themselves by farming, struggled to maintain a decent living. “That was frustrating and there wasn’t stability,” Hang said. “That’s the biggest thing that comes with ownership, you feel you have more stability.”

That’s why Hang helped found the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA), which eventually built a 155-acre farm just south of St. Paul where Hmong farmers would have access to year-round farmland. The farm, which is cooperatively owned by local Hmong farmers, is the sort of co-op business in the state that puts the ownership of an organization squarely in the hands of its own workers — and its model is now inspiring others to do the same.

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