Bok choy, daikon and lemongrass are no longer uncommon or hard to find. Delicious Asian vegetables are now mainstream ingredients that can be found at your local Farmers’ Markets, largely due to the Hmong farmers of the Fresno Valley. The Hmong are descendents from nomadic farmers originating in China. They have farmed the mountainous regions of Laos for over 200 years, and fled to the United States in the 1970s when persecuted by the Laotian Communist government. After arriving in the United States many Hmongs leased land and continued farming to make a living. Hmong were given refugee status because they assisted Americans during the Vietnam War. There are more than 700 Asian-owned family farms in Fresno County and roughly 90 percent of them are Laotian.
Xiong Pao Her is the newest Hmong farmer at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Markets. He was a soldier for the CIA in Laos in 1975, and left Laos for Thailand in 1979. After the American troops left Vietnam in 1975, Laotians who had been working with the CIA were left behind as the US forces withdrew. The former soldiers were pursued and forced to flee by the Communist army when it reentered Laos. These Laotians soldiers were living and hiding in jungles in Laos for four years until they reached a refugee camp in Thailand in 1979.
Her came to California in 1980 and has been farming in Fresno ever since. He recently purchased 20 acres of land, and sells exclusively at Farmers’ Markets. He loves being able to interact with his customers, talk to many different people and work for himself. Her grows a wide variety of Asian vegetables including bok choy, sweet potatoes, mustard greens, cilantro, dill, leeks, Chinese broccoli and, harder to find, specialty Asian vegetables like ang choy, yu choy, pea tendrils, bitter melon and daikon. One of Her’s favorite recipes is a simple stir-fry of baby bok choy, Chinese broccoli and yu choy with a little soy sauce. What could make a faster, simpler or more delicious weeknight meal?
You can find a Hmong farmer at each of the Santa Monica Farmers’ Markets. Whether bok choy, daikon and lemongrass are staples in your everyday cooking or you think sweet potatoes are only served at Thanksgiving, be sure to visit Fresno Evergreen at the Pico Market, Vang Thao at the Saturday Downtown Market and Pa Choa Vang at the Sunday Main Street Market. You can visit Xiong Pao Her at the Wednesday Downtown Market twice a month.