Bringing Traditional Hmong Foods to Market
When KT Farm owners, Tra Her and Kou Moua, were introduced as teenagers in 1990 in Merced, they found they had a lot in common. Like many other Hmong people from Laos, their families had fought in the Viet Nam war in support of the US. After the US pulled out, they were persecuted by the Communists. Tra’s family had to hide in the jungle to escape the Viet Kong. Both Tra’s and Kou's parents fled as part of a mass exodus of Hmong people from Laos, crossing the Mekong River into Thailand. There, they were held in UN refugee camps until the US began resettling veteran families in the US beginning in the mid-1970s.
The Hmong (pronounced “mung”) are an Asian ethnic group from the mountainous regions of Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand. An estimated 300,000 Hmong live in the US today; more than 100,000 live in California, including 60,000 in the Central Valley. Some 32,000 Hmong live in Fresno, where Tra and Kou live with their extended family of 12. All family members, including Tra and Kou's three children, help with the farming business.
Kou’s family were farmers in Laos, and when his family moved to the Central Valley in 1986, they continued to grow many of the foods they grew in Laos: Jujubee dates, okra, bok choy, daikon radish, lemon grass, bittermelon, Asian onions, Thai chili peppers, gai-lan (Chinese broccoli), Asian squash, Asian pumpkins, jicama, Chinese eggplant, Japanese eggplant, Asian cucumbers, and tomatoes. These kinds of foods, along with white rice, the main staple, constitute the basic diet of Laotians and the Hmong.
In addition to helping his parents with farming in Fresno, Kou worked as a mechanic. But when his uncle suggested that Kou take over his booth at the Mountain View Farmers Market, the idea of running his own business appealed to Kou. He quit his mechanic job to focus on farming and selling at farmers markets.
Meanwhile, Tra graduated from college and earned her teaching credentials. She now teaches life science to seventh graders at the Tioga Middle School in Fresno. When she is not in school or preparing lessons, Tra helps with the picking, washing and bundling of produce. “I feel that it's important to be happy with what you have in life. You can't always pick and choose a person for the work that they do. I help Kou as much as possible. I enjoy being a teacher. And the great thing about the farm is that it is a stress-free refuge—it’s hard work but there are no deadlines!” she said.
Tra and Kou and their family thrive in the tight-knit Hmong community and help keep its traditions and beliefs alive. The New Year celebration is the most important holiday. Lasting several days, this holiday brings the entire community together to honor ancestors and welcome new beginnings. According to Tra, other important annual events are the Water Festival which includes mostly sporting events, and an annual shamanistic ritual to cleanse the home. Traditional Hmong religion teaches that there are spirits residing in all things and is based on a belief in spirits, shamanism, and ancestor worship.
KT Farm's Produce Featured in Recipes of Andrea Nguyen
Local author, freelance writer, and cooking teacher, Andrea Nguyen, is a fan of KT Farm.
Andrea is the author of the acclaimed cookbook, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. She created this recipe, Boiled Peanuts and Jicima with Salt, after shopping at KT Farm:
Here is another Hmong recipe created by Andrea: Fiery Hmong Chile, Cilantro, and Tomato Salsa Recipe: http://www.vietworldkitchen.com/blog/2009/07/fiery-hmong-chile-cilantro-and-tomato-salsa-recipe.html
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