Chia Thao image via UC Merced

published on February 11, 2020 - 3:28 PM
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A Fresno State lecturer and UC Merced student is getting in the dirt to gather data on the concerns and health of the Hmong farmers in the area.

It’s all part of a research project by doctorate student Chia Thao, herself a Hmong-American immigrant from a farming family. Born in Thailand in a refugee camp, Thao came to Fresno in 1996 when she was about 14. According to Thao, her community is often overlooked and has a tendency to keep to itself, meaning that there isn’t much existing data concerning the physical or mental health of the Hmong.

Hmong immigrants and their children make up the majority of Asian farmers in the Valley — making up approximately 800 farms out of 1,300. Refugees from Laos, they predominantly grow vegetables and produce they cultivated back home, such as Thai pepper, snow peas, lemongrass, jujube and bittermelon. They’ve also found great success with strawberries and kale.

Thao’s own research is being done primarily on the impact of pesticides on the health of the small farmers. As far as pesticides are concerned, she is unsure how this has affected the Hmong farming community, but believes it may be slightly different due to language barriers concerning instructions and proper use.

“Many of these [farmers]… could be elderly Hmong individuals who have limited to no educational skills,” she said. “So giving that as a factor, reading the labels, being able to apply or reading the instructions on the labels — small things like that can be a major barrier for our community.”

In her effort to gather data, however, Thao is doing something a little more proactive than just making calls to houses. Instead, she’s rolling up her sleeves with the subjects of her study.

“I’m not just interviewing them,” she said. “I’m at the farm with them the whole day farming with them and documenting everything that I observe at the farms in addition to the interview.”

Thao’s end goal is to conduct these interviews on 15 different farms in the Valley. So far, she has 11 done. And while it’s too early to give a final assessment, she hopes that her work will not only get her answers, but also give her community validation.

“I recognize that they don’t realize that they’re an asset in terms of contributing their skill set,” Thao said. “I really want the Hmong farmers to recognize that they’re an important asset.”

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