Sandwiched among dairy farms and fields of conventionally grown corn and soybeans outside Spring Valley, Wisconsin, Thao’s Garden, is the only immigrant-owned, certified organic farm for miles.
“We grow all kinds of vegetables,” says Phua Yang Thao, who owns the farm with her husband, Blia Tou Thao. Phua corrects herself with a laugh, “mostly Caucasian vegetables.” She says vegetables common to cooking in the Thaos’ community of Hmong Americans, like bok choy and Asian bitter melon, are not as popular in the Upper Midwest as crops like asparagus and rhubarb.
The 28-acre farm has been the Thaos’ full-time occupation since 2007, building on more than 40 years of farming experience in the United States. They grow a diverse complement of garden vegetables, including peas, carrots, potatoes, beets, and peppers, and raise 400 chickens for eggs and meat. Phua says they don’t use pesticides and have no need for irrigation—though sometimes, after a wet spring, they must wait for the soil to dry out before planting.