Vegetables, tension grow on Hmong-American farm

Eagan, Minn. — A dispute last month in the southern Twin Cities community of Eagan has rattled Hmong-American farmers who grow vegetables near suburban homes.

More than 40 growers sought restraining orders against a nearby resident who police say used a loaded shotgun to threaten a Hmong couple working in the field.

Farmers’ advocates say the case is extreme, but it’s not uncommon for Asian growers to encounter hostilities as their search for rentable farmland takes them away from urban areas.

The Association for the Advancement of Hmong Women in Minnesota, which helps Hmong farmers find undeveloped land in the suburbs, found the roughly 20 acres in Eagan, and brokered a deal with the landowner.

Now the rolling fields next to a residential subdivision are brimming with zucchinis, potatoes and gourds. Hmong families rent the land, and sell the crops at Twin Cities farmers markets.

One of those new renters is Bouachao Xiong of Minneapolis, who used to be a farmer in his native Laos. Xiong and his wife were eager to snatch up a piece of the Eagan land after spending several years chasing fields as far away as Duluth.

One night last month, a neighbor whose backyard borders the fields approached Xiong about a fence, made of sticks and string, that Xiong was setting up. Xiong said the man, Richard Schliesing, tried to tear down the fence because it was interfering with his deer feedings.

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