Phenhli Thao: Brooklyn Park, Mn, Phone 763-447-7748
Phenhli Thao has a 5 acre farm. He has been farming full time for the past 3 years. He partners with his parents who have been farming for over 20 years and were part of the Association for the Advancement of Hmong Women in Minnesota (AAHWM) Immigrant Farming Program for Southeast Asian farmers from 2005-20012. He and has family has continued to farm to the present.
The Hmong Minnesota Agriculture Cooperative’s Aggregation and Value-added Project empowered 10 limited resource farmers to increase their produce sales by an estimated 10 -20 percent in 2017. One small produce distributing business was created by 3 young adults to distribute fresh produce within south Minneapolis. In 2018 the project will implement its Value-added program which should create an additional increase in sales.
Many Hmong farmers lack the resources to effectively market their entire crops. At the same time, there are people who could benefit both from affordable access to this produce, and small businesses opportunities created to more effectively aggregate, preserve, and distribute it.
The farmers have been told they could sell more produce if they could create larger organizations to better address institutional buyers’ expectations. It is our observation that there is a gap in our food system that could be filled if small-scale, socially disadvantaged farmers were to utilize cooperatives to aggregate their produce for more efficient sale and distribution.
Conducted 3 workshops on Cooperative organizational structure and business planning for our farmers to expand their leadership capacity and skills.
Conducted 2 one-on-one training for each farmer in Farm Planning, Business Planning and Field tours.
Conducted meetings with customers to determine fresh vegetable purchasing volume, specifications and pricing.
Expanded Community Supported Agriculture and Buying Club programs
Offered information on low-interest micro-loans for our farmers for up to $5000 for essential equipment and supplies from Compeer Financial (formally AgStar Bank).
1. Minnesota Hmong Agricultural Cooperative members developed a new small produce aggregation hub in the metro area with the Good Acre and other partners.
2. Secured contracts for co-op member with local processors, distributors, restaurants, CSA’s, school districts, and daycares for purchasing fresh produce.
3. 6 of the participating farmers felt they had a 10 – 20 percent increase in volume sold in 2017 over 2016 levels. It was hard to determine because they did not measure volume sold until 2017. 2018 should be more accurate.
4. The Cooperative plan to increase sales and revenue by an additional 25 percent in 2018 through value added products.
5. The Cooperative plan to negotiate agreements with potential funders in 2018 for financing.
1. In 2017 the SQUAD Produce distributors was started by 3 teenager within the Midtown Global Market to distribute vegetables sourced from the Minnesota Hmong Agricultural Cooperative.
2. 9 business plans were developed for farmers
3. Worked with other smaller farmers seeking access to capital and new markets – Micro Loans.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Here are links to the newsletter that highlight our work with Phenhli (I’ve also attached more pics):
o **Under gleaning section this outlines what we do with the produce that we glean
What did you and/or others learn from this grant?
1) Understanding cooperatives and how they work
2) Farm record keeping, budgets, balance sheets, GAP and food safety
How has this affected your farm or ranch operation?
1) Better understanding of farm profit and/or loss
2) How to better estimate farm yields
Did you overcome your identified barrier, and if so, how?
1) Yes, Aggregated more vegetables
2) Yes, Secured more markets and outlets
What are the advantages and disadvantages of implementing a project such as yours?
1) Advantages: Increased volume of vegetables sold through securing more wholesale contracts by aggregating.
2) Disadvantages: Price per pound was lower for wholesale vegetables than prices accustomed to at farmer’s markets.
If asked for more information or a recommendation concerning what you examined in this project, what would you tell other farmers or ranchers? Organizing and working together reduces risks, costs and competition, while increasing marketing opportunities.
Sheng Thao farms on 10 acres in Lakeville, MN with 5 family members. They grow over 30 different vegetables and had been selling most of them at farmers markets 5-6 days per week. By joining the cooperative they were able to aggregate vegetables with other farmers and sell into larger wholesale markets.
THANKS to NCRSARE for funding this project. We were able to organize and get more training as well as aggregate our vegetables and secure more markets. In 2018 we will implement our Value Added program to increase market opportunities and sales.