VH Produce owner Vue Her is a Hmong farmer on a 10-acre field, who grows several Asian specialty crops in Singer, CA, near Fresno, on November 9, 2018.
He has worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to implement many conservation improvements, including help replacing an old tractor for a more efficient lower emission tractor and installation of seasonal high tunnels.
Growing up on a farm and learning the skills was just not possible for Vue Her who was born to farmer parents in a refugee camp in Thailand. He could not put into practice all the farming skills they used in Laos. General schooling in the refugee camps was minimal. At the age of 15, he started working a variety of odd jobs and work as a craftsman in the camp. This 'on the job' experience taught him an appreciation for hard work, and he took pride in being able to contribute to his family. There he married and started his own family.
Eager to work, he started with Foster Farms as a janitor. Then he stocked produce at an Asian grocery store. He kept working hard and saved his money. After years of factory work, he started his farm operation on leased land, in 2011, with plans to buy his own land in two years.
As a young man with a growing family, starting a farm in the United States was a big challenge and he knew he needed help. While listening to a local Asian language radio station, he heard NRCS soil conservationist Sam Vang’s NRCS radio program (in the Hmong language). Producer Vue Her said, “I am a big fan of the program and without the NRCS radio program, I don’t think I knew USDA programs.” (Note: The radio station is no longer producing the program.)
Farming, in the beginning, was hard and not efficient for Vue Her because he had to wait to use a borrowed tractor. This caused the soil to be worked out of schedule, causing the harvest to be out of the schedule for the farmer's markets where he sells his produce. To stay on schedule and meet market needs he purchased his own tractor that was supported by the USDA through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) program.
He quickly learned from Sam Vang that the farming practices his parents used are different from the standard practices in the US. Soil conservationist Sam Vue helped him learn about soil conservation, management skills, business knowledge, and time management. Some examples of this are the practice of rotating the crops in each plot to promote soil health and using standardized tractor attachment settings to save time and effort. For this Mr. Her says, "I'm happy to be part of NRCS programs and to know the staff. I have less stress, and I'm thankful for the farm management skills. Whenever I have a question, I call Sam."
The EQIP program also helped him purchase two seasonal high tunnels so that they can grow dozens of different varieties of Asian vegetable in the long arched plastic wrapped structures. In the tunnels, many of the vegetables are planted as seeds and are very sensitive to either frost or heat. High tunnels also helped him to maintain steady production and income year-round.
As a family business, his workforce is his seven children who pitch in after school. Each week, they push to pick, clean and box the produce just before the weekend markets. Today, wife Mai Houa Yang, son Bee Her, and daughter Chai Her harvest peanuts for sale tomorrow.
"I appreciate being able to produce traditional vegetables for other cultures, says Mr. Her. "I feel good about working hard and being accepted in the community of growers and by my customers."
When asked, what is a good day? He laughs, every day is the best day because I spend more time on the farm than at home.
USDA Photo by Lance Cheung. Original public domain image from Flickr