AAPI in Ag

AAPI in agriculture:
producers & pioneers

Our country is waking to fact that the image we’re fed of American farmers is not only an outdated one, but one that’s sorely incomplete. We have multi-generational, beginner, veteran and refugee farmers. Indigenous, Black and Latin American. And we certainly have farmers among our Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community – throughout the states, and throughout our history.

This page spotlights AAPI producers, their roots, and their supporters. Scroll on for articles and other media gathering AAPI voices around the table.

Jump to:

reclaiming foodways:
Asian & Native Hawai’ians

Lindsey Ozawa and Kapaihi Umebayashi of Kāko‘o ‘Ōiwi work in one of the lo‘i on the He‘eia farm. Photo: Elyse Butler Mallams

Fewer Farmers Are Growing Hawaii’s ‘Miracle Food’ Taro Despite Growing Demand
Honolulu Civil Beat, Mar 2021 – Yoohyun Jung

Farming for taro has been declining year after year despite what farmers say is a growing demand, with fewer people choosing to grow the crop that was long a daily staple for Native Hawaiians.

However, it’s hard to know how much because data under-represents the production and sales of the starchy root vegetable, partially because farmers often choose to trade it locally to friends and family instead of marketing it to large retail chains.

Bok choy and bread fruit: How traditional crops fit a food secure future
NBC News, May 2019 – Audrey Cleo Yap

On Noho’ana Farms in western Maui, you’ll find wetland taro, kukui nut, bananas, coconut and — notably — breadfruit trees. For Pellegrino, growing breadfruit or ‘ulu, is a matter of cultural preservation. “We’ve lost, over the last 100 years, that connection to our traditional food crop,” he said. “That’s a big part of our mission.”

The Essential Guide to Taro: Three Farms Connecting Culture with Community
Honolulu Magazine, Dec 2017 – Catherine Toth Fox, Maria Kanai

“I’m old for a chef but young for a farmer,” says the 41-year-old, laughing. “This is the continuation of the food chain, just on the opposite end.” [Kāko‘o ‘Ōiwi, community-based nonprofit]

“Children need things that are real. They need to have a sense of place and pride. You can teach kids theory, but it’s good for them to see the land, where the water and the food come from, and see it in an ancient setting like Ka‘ala Farm.” [Ka‘ala Farm, an agricultural learning center]

Can Taro Farming Heal Hawai’i?
Civil Eats, Jul 2017 – Kim Vukovich

Growing up, Pellegrino spent much of his free time playing by a stream famous for taro production, “but not knowing anything about the value of water, not knowing anything about all the plants around me,” he says. As a young man, he discovered that his ancestors had cultivated loʻi kalo (wetland taro ponds) for centuries.

The last farmers stopped in the late 1940s, after a large sugar company in the area diverted the stream to irrigate sugar cane fields. With the recent closure of the state’s last sugar plantation, water rights may more easily flow back to taro farmers in the state.

a new generation
cites history, celebrates heritage

Kristyn Leach on the property of Namu Farm. Photo by Michelle Min

How a Korean-American Farmer Is Sharing Her Heritage Through Rare Seeds
Atlas Obscura, Mar 2021 – Jess Eng

The two quickly bonded over their admiration for Korean natural farming, a sustainable practice that uses indigenous microorganisms to enrich the soil, rather than herbicides or pesticides. Dierks had first heard of the practice from a Filipino teacher, while Leach knew of it from studying her Korean heritage.

[…] the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 halted most immigration from China, and also hobbled the West’s growing agricultural industry. Farmers from Japan, Korea, and the Philippines flocked to the Bay Area to fill the void. Like the Chinese farmers before them, they introduced their ancestral farming techniques and seeds to the California community. 

Young Asian Americans turn to farming as a means of cultural reclamation
NBC News, Oct 2019 – Allison Park

“I got really inspired around how we can use food to do more storytelling around our families and our culture,” de Lena said. As a biracial daughter of a Filipino father and a Caucasian mother, she said farming felt like “an easy access point” to learn more about Filipino food and how it’s grown.

“There’s high segregation based on race and ethnicity in our rural spaces,” Nguyen said. “While there are large populations of Asian American farmers, they’re segregated in a way that they’re not as visible as our white counterparts.” Nguyen said this lack of visibility harms older Asian American farmers who are denied access to markets, land and resources as a result.

In U.S. fields, these farmers connect to their Chinese roots
Share America, Jul 2019 – Dave Reynolds

[…] Wen-Jay Ying, whose business, Local Roots NYC, delivers fresh vegetables in NYC, says children of Chinese immigrants struggle to find locally, organically grown varieties of vegetables their parents cooked for them when they were growing up.

For Leslie Wiser, food has always provided a tangible connection to her Chinese heritage. When she traveled to Taiwan in college, she stayed with relatives and copied down her grandmother’s recipes to take home to her mom. […] “Learning the language, shopping at night markets, getting all our food locally and cooking with local vegetables — that’s the only way I know to keep my cultural heritage: through food,” she says.

Bok Choy Isn’t ‘Exotic’: A young generation of Asian-American farmers is reclaiming Asian vegetables — and in the process, their own culinary heritage
Eater, Apr 2019 – Cathey Erway

“I’ve been in the sustainable ag community for a while and it’s a lot of the same story that gets told,” says Chang-Fleeman, who laments that Asian produce varieties are still often described as “exotic.” “When you go to conferences and look around, it’s a lot of the same people.”

“I think being able to start a farm that’s so vocal about growing Asian produce by Asian workers with the intention to sell it to Asian folks is important,” he says. “I’m not growing them for people to think that’s cool, but for Asian-American people who think it’s a link to their history.”

feeding & fed by
the AAPI community

At a Sacramento gurdwara, Amarjit Singh dishes up food to a family forced to evacuate under the threat of a catastrophic dam spillway collapse in 2017. 

For Asian Americans, food deserts encompass both income and culture: How Asian American farmers are helping low-income and elderly AAPI access fresh food and culturally specific ingredients during the pandemic.
NBC News, Jul 2020 – Taylor Weik

For some AAPI who live in L.A.’s food deserts — areas that may be abundant in fast-food chains but lack access to the fresh and affordable produce that grocery stores and food markets sell — the pandemic doesn’t just prevent them from having access to nutritious foods. There’s also a scarcity of the type of culturally relevant produce — a need that’s been particularly apparent amid California’s stay-at-home elders.

That’s where groups like API Forward Movement come in. Their work allows families to still be able to cook and consume their produce in culturally specific ways that are familiar to them, from tossing vegetables into soups and stews to pickling them for later.

When Disasters Hit California, Sikh Temples Provide Meals and Refuge
Atlas Obscura, Jan 2020 – Teresa Mathew

[…] It was hardly the first time Shahi and the broader Sikh community have mobilized to help victims of California’s natural disasters. “I’ve been doing this since 2009,” Shahi says. “I know what it takes to do that much food.”

Sikhism, which dates to the 15th century, is a monotheistic faith guided by the teachings of 10 spiritual leaders, or gurus. Gurdwara literally means “home of the guru,” and the temples are regularly opened to those in need. As wildfires and other disasters have ravaged Northern California in recent years, gurdwaras have mobilized to provide aid.

Nonprofit Helps California’s Asian-American Farmers Grow Their Businesses
NPR The Salt, Jul 2017 – Clarissa Wei

[…] while doing volunteer work, Yang crossed paths with Kyle Tsukahira, a program manager at Asian Pacific Islander Forward Movement , a nonprofit dedicated to bringing culturally relevant produce to the Asian enclaves of Los Angeles. It was APIFM that helped Yang see that his family farm had a lot more potential to grow – and gave him the tools to do it, like counseling in marketing, how to obtain organic certifications and the latest farming policies.

Now, Yang, 29, helps his parents run Padao Farms, a 15-acre plot that specializes in traditional Asian greens.

history’s say in the matter

The Nakano family inside their flower nursery in 1939. Photo: Archives Committee of the Redwood City Public Library-Local History Room.

Minari and the Real Korean-American Immigrants Who Have Farmed U.S. Soil for More Than a Century
Time, Jan 2021 – Andrew R. Chow

While Chung initially believed his life story to be unique, farming is deeply entwined with the Korean-American experience. “In the early 1900s, farming provided the foundation for the Korean immigrant economy. […] Agriculture was really the only viable form of livelihood for many Asian immigrants during this time period.”

“It feels so close to our story that I can’t believe someone made a movie about this,” Joseph Chong, who grew up on a California family farm in the ‘70s and 80s, says.

How a Japanese Family Jumpstarted Rice Farming, Deep in the Heart of Texas: Eventually stifled by nativism and border anxiety.
Atlas Obscura, Jan 2020 – Isaac Shultz

Half a century before they were home to the Johnson Space Center, the low-lying gulf prairies southeast of Houston, Texas, were fertile with opportunity. Specifically, it was wide open country for Japanese migrants, invited by the Houston Chamber of Commerce, who brought their ingenuity and effort to boost the American rice crop. And the state might have become America’s rice bowl (an honor that now belongs to Arkansas), if not for waves of nativism—full of sentiments that echo in today’s border politics.

The Story of a People and a Plant: American Ginseng and the Hmong People
Smithsonian, Jun 2019 – Davis Moore

[…] Looking back, Yang can’t estimate how many Hmong ginseng workers were in his community, but he does distinctly remember never seeing another ethnicity out in the ginseng fields during his work there.

[…] If Lee is correct about the future of Hmong field workers in Wisconsin, then the accounts of people like her and Yang speak to a time when the story of American ginseng and the story of the Hmong people overlapped at a crucial time for both the industry and the ethnic group.

barriers & broken systems

A woman points to an anti-Japanese message in her neighborhood. Photo via Twitter @18MillionRising /  18MR.org

Despite discrimination and drought, Punjabi Americans farm on
High Country News, Feb 2021 – Wufei Yu

[…] For more than two decades, [Sam Vang, USDA] has encouraged smaller-scale Asian American farmers in the area to form guilds to bargain with farm-product suppliers and empower future farmers to participate in the policymaking process in California, which has historically neglected minority farmers. “If you don’t see it or you don’t feel it, then you need to open your eyes. There’s always prejudice. There’s always discrimination,” said Kashmir Gill, former mayor of Yuba City and the first Sikh mayor elected in the United States.

California’s immigrant farmers squeezed by Silicon Valley success
New American Media, Feb 2013 – Li Lovett

Judy rises before 3:30 a.m. on delivery days, driving a truck loaded with over 300 boxes of vegetables to the Chinatowns of San Francisco and Oakland. […] Farming is in Judy’s blood. Her relatives were farmers in the fertile Pearl River Delta region of China. Almost all the Chinese growers in Silicon Valley’s farming belt can trace their roots to this region near Hong Kong.

Back in San Martin, the Kuangs continue to live the farming life of their ancestors. But this way of life is increasingly under threat — not from the manufacture of watches, toys and clothes as is the case in China, but from Internet company headquarters and the surrounding neighborhoods where its employees live. Since buying 12.9 acres here in 1998, the Kuangs have watched the price tag of surrounding land increase from $30,000 an acre to as much as $70,000 in recent years.

Florida Expected to Repeal a Racist Law That Prevents Asian Farmers From Owning Land
Next Shark, Aug 2018 – Cal Samson

[..] The law, which appears under the Declaration of Rights in the Constitution of Florida, currently states that “the ownership, inheritance, disposition and possession of real property by aliens ineligible for citizenship may be regulated or prohibited by law.” Adapted in 1926, it intended to discourage Japanese farmers from coming to the state as they could no longer own land.

Florida failed to repeal the law in a 2008 attempt, where less than 50% — the minimum requirement being 60% — voted to pass. That leaves it the only remaining state with such a law, as others with similar legislatures had abolished theirs since 1956.

%d bloggers like this: