Growing up, Youa Yang did not envision himself taking over his family's business. His parents were Hmong refugees from Laos who arrived in Fresno, Calif., in the late 1980s and settled down to become farmers. He went to college for economics and mathematics and found himself knee-deep in the finance industry immediately after graduating.
But, while doing volunteer work, Yang crossed paths with Kyle Tsukahira, a program manager at Asian Pacific Islander Forward Movement (API), a nonprofit dedicated to bringing culturally relevant produce to the Asian enclaves of Los Angeles. It was API that helped Yang see that his family farm had a lot more potential to grow – and gave him the tools to do it, like counseling in marketing, how to obtain organic certifications and the latest farming policies.
Now, Yang, 29, helps his parents run Padao Farms, a 15-acre plot that specializes in traditional Asian greens.
Then Yang went from client to consultant. He's fluent in Hmong and he helps translate the organization's workshops for his fellow Hmong farmers in the Central Valley.
"It made me think about what I really wanted to do in life and the blessings that I had," he says. "What I realized is that my parents are farming in Fresno and that they could use my talents and abilities."
Yang's family farm grows a wide variety of produce catering specifically to an Asian palate. On a late spring day at the farm, one might find water spinach, with hollow stems that soak in the flavor of the garlic, and yam leaves, which are best gently sautéed with a dash of salt. There's bitter melon, which pairs well with black beans, and daikon roots, which are ideally pickled with a bit of white vinegar and sugar. The well-known bok choy is also available and is especially tasty when married to garlic, with a bit of salt and pepper.
In addition to farmers' markets across California, Yang's produce is distributed through Roots, API's Los Angeles-based community-supported agriculture program, which he says has generated significant extra revenue for his farm and provided much-needed marketing assistance.