Hmong Farming comes to Wisconsin
Cheu Vang grew up in the northern hills of Laos with a long family history of traditional slash-and-burn farming. Cheu recalls his father settling many disputes over land since this lifestyle required farmers to search for new areas to cultivate each year. Farming in the mountains was hard work, and large families were prevalent in the area. Cheu was the oldest of twelve children. As the oldest and a male, he was able to attend school, often leaving women like his grandmother to do much of the farm labor. Due to the unstable and difficult lifestyle of slash-and-burn agriculture, Cheu’s family purchased a plot of land in the early 1960s in the nearby valley in order to grow their staple crop, rice, with more ease. But the Vang’s new-found lifestyle did not last once the conflicts between pro-loyalist and communists forces began. The Vang family was forced off of their new land and began a cycle of fleeing from village to village for protection.
During these years, they relied heavily on the support of the United States government. Cheu knew a little bit of English and was able to get a job working for USAID coordinating food drops to those in need. It was here that Cheu met his wife, Chia. The two spent time in refugee camps in Thailand.
Finally leaving for the U.S. in 1975 when the U.S. government declared that no more planes would be coming in or leaving the region, Cheu and Chia lived in Connecticutt and Milwaukee, where they ran a grocery store, before settling in Jefferson County in 2005. Encouraged by the enthusiasm of their young grandson who fell in love with a farm outside Fort Atkinson, the Vangs purchased an old farmstead from the Hake family. The Hakes were one of the original settlers of Jefferson county. Emaneul Hake settled in Jefferson in 1843. Two worlds came together when the Vangs bought the land to start a new farming tradition: The Vang farm was a little bit of Wisconsin and a little bit of Laos.
The First Certified Organic Hmong Farm in Wisconsin
In 2012, Cheu and Chia Vang became the first organically-certified Hmong farm in Wisconsin. Their commitment to organic farming stems from their experiences in Laos where no chemicals were used to farm the healthiest most sustainable food possible in the region. Alarmed by the lack of interest in farming among young people, Cheu and Chia are active as teachers, lecturers and role models for future farmers throughout southern Wisconsin. For now, Vang C&C Farm will continue to provide healthy, organic produce for people throughout the state.