New Immigrant Agriculture Project

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2002: $69,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Glen Hill
Minnesota Food Association


  • Fruits: grapes
  • Vegetables: peppers, tomatoes


  • Education and Training: general education and training


    The New Immigrant Agriculture Project is designed to increase the number of new immigrants engaged in niche market, sustainable agriculture through:

    1) Publication of a compilation report analyzing the niche/ethnic market research that explores what current research is saying about potential markets for small-scale, sustainable growers in Minnesota;

    2) Creation of a replicable farm business management curriculum that instructs on crop production using sustainable/organic methods, record keeping, financial and risk management, marketing, and farm planning and evaluation.


    (Note: Due to staff turnover and part-time work, resulting from funding instability for MFA during the periods of 2003 – 2006, this report was delayed. Much information has been kept in MFA’s files, while some information is incomplete. The original staff implementing this grant project are no longer with MFA. Some of the information on this project is incomplete, resulting that some sections of the report are not as strong as they should be. We apologize for this. Some of the sections of this report reflect activity that has taken place since this grant period, and more specifically during the 2007 training / growing season.)

    Issues and Needs

    Minnesota’s foreign born population more than doubled in the 1990’s, from 2.6 percent of the population to 5.8 percent. Over 40 percent of the new arrivals came from Asia, nearly one-fourth come from Latin America, 17 percent from Europe, and 14 percent from African nations. Immigration is a significant factor in the demographic shifts seen in Minnesota in the 1990’s.

    While Minnesota’s population remains predominantly Caucasian and Minnesota-born, our state leads the nation in several areas of immigration: we have the largest population of Somali immigrants, the largest concentration of Hmong immigrants/refugees in a single city, and the most refugees.

    Often new immigrants come to Minnesota because they know someone, usually a family member. On arrival they face an entirely new way of living. Often uprooted from an agrarian culture, new immigrants arrive to find themselves in large cities with many expenses and few opportunities for generating income. To support their families, many new immigrants have to learn new employment skills or how to adapt the skills they have to their new environment.

    Most new immigrants go into low-paying service jobs. Over time, many work their way into higher paying technical positions. Many, however, would prefer to preserve and pass on the way of life familiar to them—farming.

    While many immigrants come from agrarian backgrounds and are interested in continuing to farm, they find that the practice of agriculture in Minnesota is quite dissimilar from their county of origin. Minnesota farm business practices, record-keeping, finding or creating a market for one’s product, environmental protection—these are often new aspects for immigrants accustomed to supporting themselves off the land.

    Communities to be Served

    The communities that will be served by this grant are new immigrants, particularly Southeast Asian/Hmong, Latino/Hispanic and African.
    Despite an economic downturn at the start of this decade, the population of immigrants in Minnesota continues to grow. A new resettlement program for Hmong refugees from Thailand added about 5,000 immigrants to Minnesota’s population in late 2004.

    The demographic factors vary among foreign-born Minnesota residents. For example, there are those that are highly skilled and who have come here to fill specialized jobs; there are those who arrived 20 years ago and have had time to establish stable communities and advance in the workforce; and there are those who have recently arrived. The target communities for this grant are new immigrants, those who are most in need.

    Although demographic studies often do not distinguish between these groups, we know that even as a composite group international immigrants are more likely to be in poverty, linguistically isolated and dependent on earned income. The earned income of international immigrants is more likely to come from wages or salaries than from self-employment. International immigrant families have the lowest median household incomes, when compared to interstate movers and non-movers. When income is calculated on a per capita basis the gap widens.

    An interesting phenomenon is taking place on the southern and western borders of Minnesota. The native-born populations in those areas are decreasing while the foreign-born population is increasing.

    The influx of new immigrants to these areas is nearly the sole source of economic growth in these areas. And yet, there is a gap between the economic conditions of the native populations and the new arrivals. The new arrivals are less likely to own homes or property and are largely employed in low-wage food processing jobs.
    The New Immigrant Agriculture Project is one means of helping these immigrants gain the tools they need to improve their economic standing and, thus, to socially integrate the communities and to strengthen these regional economies. The Project focuses on new immigrants who are choosing agriculture as their means of income.

    Project objectives:

    -With the assistance of a New Immigrant Advisory Task Force, develop comprehensive, sustainable strategies to address economic, health, safety and nutrition concerns related to food production as a means to economic self-sufficiency for New Immigrant farmers.
    -Assist the incorporation of New Immigrant farmers into rural communities, improving individual and community vitality by enhancing the rural economies.
    -Educate New Immigrant farmers in the environmental benefits of sustainable methods.
    Facilitate permanent linkages between New Immigrants and agricultural-based organizations.

    -Expand the numbers of new immigrant people involved in niche market, sustainable agriculture as well as assisting them in becoming a permanent part of both rural and agricultural communities.
    -Report that analyzes niche/ethnic market research.
    -Creation of a replicable, educational curricula related to sustainable/organic production techniques, incorporating experiential learning.
    -Enhance the ability of New Immigrant farmers to access farming and financial resources by verifying their farm business management skill.

    Desired Outcomes (from Evaluation Plan):

    -Expand the number of new immigrant people involved in niche market, sustainable agriculture by 50.
    -Assist these farmers in becoming a permanent part of rural communities.
    -Publish and disseminate 300 reports that analyze niche/ethnic market research in the metropolitan and out-state areas of Minnesota.
    Creation of a cultural food web in which new immigrant producers sell products to ethnic retailers.
    -Adaptation of Sustainable Agricultural Farm Business Management Curricula incorporating traditional farm business management techniques as well as sustainable/organic methodologies, emphasizing experiential learning. By completing the curriculum, participants earn a certificate in farm business management that will be utilized by lending institutions in processing loans.

    Usage of these curricula in training future New Immigrant or other socially disadvantaged farmers. New Immigrant farmers become a permanent part of the rural and agricultural communities in Minnesota, thus adding to the vitality of rural economies.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.