Easy to Make Hotdish of Ideas

Cross-community Flavors, Slow-cooked for Success


Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

Hmong American Farmers Association

Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties



IATP and HAFA; Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota

In the first few vignettes we learned how local leaders leveraged pre-existing community relationships or sheer individual creativity to bring farm fresh foods to ECE. In our fourth case study, we see something  a bit different - a brand new partnership between three change agents. One of the main ingredients in this story is the Hmong American community in Minnesota, a strong community of immigrants with farming forming a strong part of their identity. At about the same time that the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) sought new ways to stabilize the income of its farmers, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) was considering new strategies for reaching deeper into vulnerable communities to enhance the impact of its successful farm to ECE program. Before these potential allies could come together, however, they had to address HAFA’s concern about working with an organization like IATP, which, like other large institutions, had been criticized in the past for not fully including people of color-led organizations in work by and about them. Once HAFA and IATP were able to talk, however, a window opened. What followed, with the inclusion of the Head Start program at Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties (CAPRW), was a model of authentic power-sharing that created a nutritional, educational, and cultural pipeline from Hmong American farmers to the plates of Head Start centers with large populations of children of color, including Hmong American children.

One of the key lessons of this story is that new experiences of conscious rapport-building through collaboration can be forged successfully when the power of a shared vision and values is mobilized. HAFA, initially cautious about engaging with IATP, was able to fully express its concerns to IATP from the outset. Leadership at IATP in turn acknowledged HAFA’s  reservations, and through candid communication and commitment to the shared goal of bringing fresh food to ECE, the two commenced a partnership based on equality and cooperation.

A second key lesson is that, regardless of strong shared values, willingness, enthusiasm, and  a  sense of  mission, the  implementation of  a  complex program is still, at  the  end of the day, a pragmatic challenge. Engineering logistical processes in compliance to regulatory policies to bring safe, fresh food to    children   throughout    the year requires adequate capacity, planning, and execution. When caterers to the ECE sites could not fully manage the preparation and delivery of foods, a private wholesaler that  had  previously worked with HAFA was introduced to the partnership to bring the collaboration’s  vision to full operational capacity. When the resilience of the new partnership was tested by operational setbacks, each partner was able to leverage existing experience and relationships to solve problems together.

In its third year, the partnership between IATP, HAFA, and CAPRW continues to refine and adapt its services. At the time this cookbook was written, it was focusing on building stronger engagement with parents and further fortifying connections between food, education, cultural heritage, and community. This vignette demonstrates how farm to ECE has the ability to forge opportunities for new relationships and experiences, meeting dynamic priorities and agendas under the shared goal of bring the highest quality nutrition to ECE.