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Hmong Farmers Receive Culturally Appropriate Training — and Learn to Pass It On

Seeing is believing, and in the case of Hmong farmers, seeing is a way of learning new farming practices. That’s why members of the Hmong community of western Washington are now producing videos.

At 911 Media in Seattle: learning to frame a shot. Download high-reolsution image.
At 911 Media in Seattle: learning to frame a shot. Click to download high-reolsution version.

In the Hmong culture, farmers learn through storytelling and art. While classroom-style teaching reaches some farmers in the area, barriers such as language, work schedules and learning styles made it difficult to effectively convey new practices to Hmong farmers.

“Classes and workshops on improving farming practices had low attendance because of learning barriers,” said Bee Cha, Hmong outreach extension educator. “Since the Hmong farmers were not going to classes and workshops, we wanted a better way to reach out, so we brainstormed non-traditional methods of education.”

Washington State University King County Extension and Small Farms Team took sustainable business and farming practice education for Hmong farmers to the next level. They taught Hmong youth how to produce videos, and now those youth are making videos to educate the farmers in their communities.

Hmong youth editing video. Click to download high-resolution version.

Since the Hmong began to immigrate to King County in the early 1980s, WSU has helped the farmers find markets in which to sell. But while WSU’s Small Farms Team has been making education available to local farmers, the various barriers have constrained extension educators in teaching new agricultural methods to the Hmong farmers.

“We wanted to offer something more convenient and culturally appropriate,” said Todd Murray, director of WSU Skamania County Extension.

Hmong are from the highlands of Laos and immigrated to King County as refugees resulting from the Vietnam War. Currently, Hmong farmers represent a significant component in the King County’s agricultural landscape. There are approximately 90 Hmong family farms in the state of Washington, with 50 located in King County, according to Cha.

At 911 Media in Seattle: learning to frame a shot. Click to download high-reolsution version.

After discovering that most Hmong farmers had access to technology, including DVD players, the WSU King County Extension and Small Farms Team decided to investigate video education.

“We wanted to reinvigorate the education we provide to satisfy their needs,” said Murray. “It was important to create an education that worked with their lifestyle.”

County extension educators decided to train young farmers in video production so they could create their own educational videos on business and sustainable farming practices.

After purchasing video equipment, computers and software with grant support from the King Conservation District, 12 young farmers took classes at 911 Media in Seattle to learn video production skills. After learning how to structure projects through production planning, filming and editing, the group was challenged to create a video project on an aspect of Hmong culture.

Since then, two of the students have been hired by WSU to create instructional documentaries. So far, the duo has produced videos on flea beetle management and another on proper record keeping for taxes. The flea beetle video is in its final stages of production. Once complete, the videos will be distributed on DVD and also will be viewable online.

“We are hoping this will turn into a long-term project and that it can be translated into other languages,” said Murray. After the videos are distributed, research will be done on their effectiveness.

“I think this project is unique and will definitely have a bigger impact and a wider audience than we had in classes and workshops,” said Cha.

“This is the most fun project I’ve done working with WSU,” said Murray. “Hmong is an interesting culture, and it was a great community to work with.”

Sample videos produced by the team are available online at http://www.youtube.com/user/wsuextension. The project was funded by King Conservation District and supported by WSU Small Farms Team through grants from USDA Risk Management Agency and USDA Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers.

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Sample Hmong Video Productions

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