Farm Credit Affiliation
Pakou Hang is an indisputably dynamic leader changing the future of rural communities and agriculture for the better.
Pakou has more than 25 years of experience with farming and vegetable production and is a co-founder and the Executive Director of the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA), based in Saint Paul, Minnesota. HAFA is an economic development nonprofit that was formed in 2011 to uplift Hmong farming families in Minnesota. While major suppliers of fresh, locally grown, fruits and vegetables to the Twin Cities areas for the past three decades, Hmong farmers have historically earned significantly less than other vegetable growers. HAFA’s mission is to advance the prosperity of Hmong farmers and their families through cooperative endeavors, partnerships, capacity building, research and advocacy. HAFA also operates a 155-acre incubator and educational farm in Dakota County, Minnesota, where 20 low-income families sub-lease five- or 10-acre plots and grow produce and flowers.
"According to the latest studies, the net worth of white families in America is almost ten times the net worth of minority families,” says Pakou. “I hope to help Hmong farmers find a path towards wealth creation for their families so that many years down the road, the rewards of their hard work will still be reaped by their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”
Pakou’s extraordinary journey began after the Vietnam War in war-torn Laos where her parents were fleeing political persecution. The second oldest of seven children, Pakou was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and her family immigrated to the United States when she was just 15 days old. Believing that a good education was the surest route to a better life, Pakou’s parents sent their children to Catholic schools and began farming as a way to pay for the school’s tuition. Today, all of her siblings have graduated from college and most have graduate degrees. Pakou herself holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Yale University and a master’s degree in political science from the University of Minnesota.
“Like many farm kids, I grew up vowing that I would study hard and find a job off the farm. I didn’t understand how my parents could commit themselves to that endless work,” she says. “But as an adult, I came to see how important small-scale vegetable farming was for the environment and for immigrant families like mine. I realized that my core values of hard work, fairness and community were things that I had learned from my parents and from farming. I am motivated to do this work because I want to amplify the stories and the dignity of people like my parents.”
In addition to learning the value of hard work, farming taught Pakou about community and giving back. In 2001, her family was featured in the book, Renewing the Countryside Minnesota, and she recently teamed up with Renewing the Countryside again to explore barriers to land access for immigrant, beginning and landless farmers. Pakou is a former member of the St. Paul Farmers Market Board of Directors, a member of the Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership (MARL) program, and a current member of the Minneapolis Food Council. She is also a recipient of the Hubert H. Humphrey Public Leadership Award, the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans, and the Bush Fellowship, a leadership award given by the Bush Foundation.
“I think the future of agriculture is very exciting, in part because there are major challenges that we are facing such as climate change, diminishing resources, increasing populations and life spans, amidst a pervasive narrative that food is cheap,” Pakou says. “But just as there are great obstacles, there are also great opportunities to innovate, to re-imagine, and to collaborate with uncommon allies. I think agriculture is on the brink of a paradigm shift and I feel so lucky to be able to bear witness to that transformation.”
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