Coming Full Circle
Yee Ythao continues her family's strong farming history at the Farley Center in Verona
Yee Ythao farms at the Farley Center in Verona.
PHOTO BY OTEHLIA CASSIDY
Yee Ythao’s farming experience began years ago and miles away. After the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam in the 1970s, the Hmong, an ethnic group living mainly in Laos and southern China, some of whom had been recruited by the U.S. government as spies, were forced to flee their homes. Over several decades, many families found refuge in Thailand. Ythao’s family, originally from Laos, was among them.
While in a refugee camp, Ythao’s father raised animals and grew vegetables that she sold at market. Her family spent five years in the camp, and twenty-one years total in Thailand, before immigrating to the U.S. in 1995. Ythao chose to pursue her father’s path—farming. “Many Hmong people think farming is only work for uneducated people, something you do when you don’t have a choice, but that is not true,” she says. “You have to study a lot and learn a lot to grow food, especially organic food.”
Ythao, who is married with three teenagers, tends her farm at the Farley Center for Peace, Justice and Sustainability in Verona. The center was founded in 2010 and promotes sustainability and community partnerships through various programs, including a farm incubator. The incubator offers education and technical assistance to aspiring farmers of diverse cultural backgrounds. Ytha’s farm, called Yee Circle Farm, is slowly gaining ground. This is her second year working with Spring Rose Growers Cooperative to offer a fall CSA—the first in the region supporting Hmong farmers. The CSA offers seasonal fruits and vegetables, as well as produce from Mexican and Hmong agricultural and culinary traditions.
Ythao hopes that younger members of the Hmong community will continue the important task of farming. “Americans always ask questions before doing things. They see they have a choice,” she says. “I want the young Hmong to see that, too. And that farming is a good choice. It is a career, not a last resort. It is about keeping the soil healthy and keeping our heirlooms alive in our families.”
Learn more abou the Farley Center for Peace, Justice and Sustainability in the video below:
RECIPE: Chicken Laab
3 chicken breasts (about 3 cups once chopped)
1/3 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1/3 cup green onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup mint leaves, finely chopped
1/4 cup lemongrass (white part only), finely chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh or frozen Thai chilli peppers
2 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tbsp roasted rice powder
Lettuce for garnish
Bake chicken breasts in oven at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink inside. Meanwhile, chop fresh herbs. Once chicken is cooked, slice it into large chunks and put into a food processor to chop, or chop manually. Add all the fresh ingredients except the chillies to the chicken. Mix well. Add the rice powder, then the fish sauce, lime juice and chillies slowly (1 tbsp at a time or 1 tsp of the chillies at a time) and adjust to your liking. (I am listing what I used exactly but you may like yours less salty, sour or hot.) Stir everything well. Put laab on a serving plate on top of some lettuce as presentation. Serve with side dishes of salad and rice.
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