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California Shines Light on the Asian American and Pacific Islander Farming Community

National Hmong American Farmers Conference

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials provide attendees at the National Hmong American Farmers Conference with information about federal programs in Fresno, Calif., April 30, 2015. (Photo by ChuKou Thao)

It began with a simple idea to raise awareness about the unmet nutritional needs of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community and the economic challenges of AAPI farmers. In 2014, the Asian Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance (APIOPA) submitted a proposal to bring vital AAPI agricultural issues to light, as part of the White House Initiative on AAPIs’ Proposal Challenge. The Initiative selected APIOPA for its vision to encourage community groups and federal agencies to address food insecurity and economic development within the AAPI community by bringing fresh and healthy produce through Community-Supported Agriculture (CSAs). They continue to work diligently to promote and establish CSAs, a model allowing farmers to sell their produce directly from small AAPI farms to local consumers.

As part of this effort to bring information of federal programs to AAPI farmers, the Initiative has collaborated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to improve access to USDA funding programs and grants. This strategy targets the economic stressors that many farmers face, providing targeted assistance for farmers to help expand their business. On April 30, the Initiative and USDA, along with state and federal agencies, met with over 200 farmers for the National Hmong American Farmers Conference in Fresno, California. Farmers at the conference engaged in direct dialog with government officials and gave testimonies that showcased their triumphs. The event fostered the sharing of diverse ideas and strengthening of cultural unity. The Initiative’s Regional Network’s partners from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Small Business Association, and USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, along with state agencies from the Farm Service Agency and Food and Nutrition Service, came to help educate and provide assistance to attendees. The University of California Cooperative Extension also shared delicious and culturally diverse recipes and nutritional information through their SNAP-Ed program.

One highlight of the event was that it provided a one-stop-shop to help farmers get authorized to sell their produce at farmers markets through the CalFresh Farmers Retail Sign-up Program. This program is a partnership between USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), the California Department of Social Services (CDSS), and National Hmong American Farmers. CalFresh is a California program that is also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Farmers who signed up for the program were approved in less than two hours, rather than weeks. Farmers also learned about grant opportunities for getting free wireless Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) equipment. This event streamlined the registration process for California farmers into the CalFresh program, ultimately increasing access to fresh produce for SNAP recipients and introducing new ways to connect California’s farmers directly to their consumers.

The ability to accept CalFresh benefits helps farmers increase their customer base and provide economic benefits for themselves and their local communities. When a farmer signs up to be SNAP-authorized, it is clear that everyone wins, from the producer down to the consumer. Farmers market manager Susan Moora spoke about the success of establishing the first farmers market in California to accept SNAP-EBT. Moora also talked about the hard work and dedication it took to establish a market that cared about the business of its farmers alongside issues of equal access to healthy foods for all. As a result of this Fresno event, Moora has a new Hmong farmer participating in her market.

Sometimes simple ideas can raise awareness, inspire communities, and start movements. Originating from a partnership between a community organization and the Initiative, federal agencies and the AAPI community came together on a hot spring day in California and created something wonderful and sustainable. The USDA and the Initiative intend to continue promoting community wellness and economic prosperity within the AAPI community and look forward to further bringing agricultural ideas into fruition.

USDA Grant Opportunity

On May 5, 2015, USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) published a Request for Applications (RFA).  The RFA announces the availability of $3.3 million in competitive funds to be awarded through Farmers’ Market SNAP Support Grants (FMSSG) in fiscal year (FY) 2015.  FMSSG funds will range from $15,000 to $250,000 and are intended to increase SNAP accessibility and participation at farmers’ markets, and support the establishment, expansion, and promotion of SNAP/Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) services at farmers’ markets.  Applications are due June 18, 2015. Grant funds will be awarded in September. For further information about the grant application, visit

Brenda Mutuma is Program Specialist, Food and Nutrition Service, at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.