Village Farmer Cooperative Helps Provide Healthy Foods To Immigrant Communities In Southeast Minnesota
But in Rochester, there is the village agricultural cooperative, which creates opportunities for communities in the area to grow culturally relevant foods. Most of the producers in the village cooperative live in housing where they cannot grow food, or they want to grow food for sale in local markets but do not have access to farmland.
Kim Sin, founder and chairman of the village agricultural cooperative, realized around 2018 while working with elderly members of the Cambodian community in Rochester, many of whom were not eating healthy. The products they were used to in Cambodia were too expensive to buy in Minnesota, Sin said, especially in the winter.
âThe cost of food for them during the winter, to eat the food of their culture, is going to double or triple,â Sin said. “And so I asked them, what if there was access to land so that they could grow up and feed themselves during the summer, and save that money during the winter to continue eating healthily.”
The reality of this seemed achievable for Sin, he said, after driving past the American Hmong Farmers’ Association farm one day on Highway 52, with Dee Sabol from the Diversity Council. from Rochester.
âAnd I mentioned that I wish we had something like that in Rochester,â Sin said.
Sabol told him he had to meet with Amanda Nigon-Crowley, also from the Diversity Council, which he did. They left their meeting over coffee with a full overview of the organization and even a name, The Village Agricultural Cooperative and Learning Community.
Kim Sin and Amanda Nigon-Crowley on November 19, 2021, at one of the village’s six farmer cooperative and learning community grow sites. Sin is the founder and president of the nonprofit organization and Nigon-Crowley is the executive director. Noah Fish / Agweek
âKim, I call him the rock star, and I’m kind of the manager of the band, because he’s always in touch with people and coming up with ideas,â said Nigon-Crowley, executive director and garden manager of Village Agricultural Cooperative. “And it’s just a matter of, OK, so where do you get the parts and put them together.”
After hearing about Sin’s work from members of the Diversity Council, Joselyn Raymundo, founder of Rochester Home Infusion, donated 11 acres of land for the project. Prior to that, the operation consisted of a rented garden behind Mayo Field where the Rochester Honkers Baseball Club plays in the summer.
So, what served as the groundbreaking ceremony in 2019 was a sweet Italian chili pepper entering the ground on the 11-acre plot. Soon after, the Village Co-op entered into educational partnerships with the University of Minnesota at Rochester, the University of Minnesota Extension, and Rochester Community and Technical College.
âIt’s something I never imagined to be so successful,â said Sin of the Village Co-op. âBut the work that was done wasn’t just me, and Amanda (Nigon-Crowley) was a big part of that and the Diversity Council – it’s a community effort to make sure that the village gets to where we are today, the partnerships and the connection we have. “
The village farmer co-op and learning community sign in Northwest Rochester, Minnesota, November 19, 2021. Noah Fish / Agweek
The nonprofit now has six grow sites totaling around eight acres, Nigon-Crowley said, two of which are still under development. Rochester Covenant Church’s largest site, located next to Kings Run Creek, has over 145 garden plots that serve over 120 families.
Other plots include a fenced garden at the Olmsted County History Center – surrounded by historic buildings from the late 18th and early 19th century – one at John Adams High School in Rochester and another at the Presbyterian Community Church.
Nigon-Crowley said it was difficult to count the number of volunteers who participated this year, but the village co-op would be nothing without them.
âA big part of our success is totally attributed to our volunteer base, and we have so much of it,â said Nigon-Crowley. “We had service teams this summer, and at the University of Minnesota-Rochester, we had cohorts every semester and summer session.”
What also becomes difficult to count is the number of communities that the village cooperative now serves. The organization began by serving the Cambodian community of Rochester, which Nigon-Crowley estimates number between 5,000 and 8,000 people. It now serves many of the city’s immigrant communities.
âWe have over 16 different languages ââthat we know have been spoken – these are official languages, and that doesn’t even count the number of dialects,â Nigon-Crowley said.
The largest populations served by the village cooperative are from Cambodia and Kenya, but Nigon-Crowley said it also has producers from Mexico, Guatemala, Cameroon, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Iran, Bosnia, Ukraine and Laos.
As long as there is a waiting list for the village, Nigon-Crowley said they will continue to look for land to expand.
“We are also trying to find the farmers of tomorrow, to educate people about regenerative agriculture and to teach them how to run a farming business and what will sell in local markets,” she said.
A sign at the Village Farming Co-op and Learning Community in Northwest Rochester, Minnesota on November 19, 2021. Noah Fish / Agweek
At first, Nigon-Crowley said his and Sin’s vision was pragmatic, focused on the basic needs of each site such as water, garbage, parking and other things.
“And as we do that, and also as we develop our business plan, and are really able to focus on what we want to do and where we want to go, I think now I’m starting to see the situation in her. together with what more capable, âsaid Nigon-Crowley.
Sin is a longtime advocate for the Cambodian community, and his initiative sparked the nonprofit, but he credits Nigon-Crowley for connecting this community and many others to the resources they have. really need to be successful in farming.
â(The producers of the village cooperative) say they weren’t able to grow as big as they wanted in the past, because they didn’t have anyone to defend them,â he said. he declares. “So when they needed to talk to someone or let us know about something, Amanda was there to connect and find the resource.”
When Kim Sin arrived in Rochester from Cambodia with her family on July 14, 1983, they landed in a neighborhood next to the city’s oldest shopping center, The Miracle Mile, located along Highway 52 near the Kutzky park.
âBack then, we called it Cambodian Park,â Sin said of Kutzky Park in the 1980s, where he and his friends played basketball, volleyball and football, but not soccer. tennis, which was not played in Cambodia.
Sin said Cambodian culture was bred to cultivate and cultivate, but they were unable to continue like this when they first arrived in Rochester.
âWhen we got to the US we didn’t have that opportunity,â he said, not even outside of their own home. “When my mom wanted to grow in the backyard, our landlord wouldn’t allow it because he said we were damaging their lawn.”
The owner had to ask an interpreter to tell Sin’s mother that she was not allowed to grow things in the backyard.
Sin has said more than ever that he feels he and the community he came to Rochester with are more comfortable.