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The Many Faces and Stories of Minnesota Culture

Rodrigo Cala Headshot
Photo courtesy of Shared Ground Coop

Rodrigo Cala

Rodrigo Cala was born in Mexico City, Mexico where he learned how to farm from his mother. When Rodrigo moved to the United States in 1996, he would often look for the herbs his mother grew in Mexico to add to dishes he was cooking, like Verdolagas or Mexican Parsley and squash blossoms. He could rarely find them though, and when he did they were very poor quality. This caused Rodrigo and his brother to begin thinking about starting their own farm.

Through a lot of hard work, taking classes and training about how to farm and be successful, Rodrigo now owns a 46 acre farm near Turtle Lake, Wisconsin. Rodrigo is passionate about the health of the earth and the climate. He has certified 17 acres of his farm as organic. Organic crops must be grown in ways that protect soil and water quality. Most synthetic (human-made) herbicides and pesticides are forbidden to be used. Rodrigo uses cover crops, inter-cropping (growing different plants together that work together, like squash, beans and corn), and solarization, which is the practice of laying plastic sheeting down on the ground, to help control weeds and pests.

Rodrigo also grows Mexican Marigolds for Dio De Los Muertos, an important celebration in Hispanic culture. Rodrigo is constantly learning new techniques and meeting new people to help him become a better and more profitable farmer. He believes the best skill you can have as a farmer is a passion to learn and work hard.

Rodrigo Cala Planting
Rodrigo Cala planting broccoli. Photo courtesy of Shared Ground Coop
Portrait of Wendelin and Julianna Grimm
Photo & content courtesy of Three Rivers Park District

Wendelin Grimm

In 1859, German immigrant farmers Wendelin and Julianna vv Grimm purchased a plot of land in northern Carver County near what is now Victoria, MN. Among the possessions they brought from their native land was a small wooden box containing alfalfa seeds, which they planted on their farm. For the next fifteen years, Wendelin Grimm collected and planted seeds from the alfalfa plants that survived the harsh Minnesota winters.

Today, Grimm Alfalfa is the source of all modern varieties of alfalfa. It is grown on more than 25 million acres in the United States. The Grimm Farm is open for tours and contains modern exhibits that tell the story of how Grimm Alfalfa came to be the important plant it is today.

Alfalfa Plants
Alfalfa is an important food for cattle.
The Hangs
Photos courtesy of Liilian Hang

The Hang Family

The Hang family is from Laos, and is Hmong (pronounced muhng). Hmong are an ethnic group of people who historically have lived in the Southeast Asian countries of China, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam. After the Vietnam War, the Hang family moved to a refugee camp in Thailand, and then in 1976 came to the United States. They made their home in St. Paul, MN in 1986.

Because of experience farming in Laos, the Hangs knew that they could grow cucumbers to pickle and sell to help earn money. The Hang family currently rents 10 acres of land from HAFA, the Hmong American Farmers Association near Hastings, MN where they grow foods that are native to the country of Laos. They grow mustard greens, bitter melon, lemongrass and ginger. The Hangs sell their produce at the St. Paul Farmers Market. The Hangs enjoy farming because of the people, the exercise, and because it is their way of life.

Family at Farmer's Market
The Hang family booth at the St. Paul Farmer's Market.
Photo courtest of Lillian Hang

How are the experiences of recent immigrants like Rodrigo Cala and the Hang family similar to the experiences of Wendellin Grimm in the 19th century? How are their experiences different?

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