In The Mix

COLUMN: Calling the Crops

the cycle of seasons in a Hmong garden

Yia Lor, photos by Andrea Paulseth |

Back in April, my mother and I bundled up to make our first trip out to the garden where she divided up the land and decided which crop would grow best where. After we finished planting the early spring vegetables, my mother said it was time to hu, or call, the crops.

“Little cucumbers, little squash,” she sang in Hmong/HMoob*. “Little beans, little potatoes. Grow. For if you don’t, you won’t beat the weeds.”

So they grew, and indeed, beat the weeds.

Most days while out in the field with my feet in the dirt and fingers tangled in the vines, I often forgot that the rest of the Chippewa Valley had paused. We continued to stake, to weed, and to find ways of keeping the crows away from the watermelons. Crows don’t know or care that we are living in a pandemic, and they will feast in our garden when we are away.

We have gathered and boiled the HMoob corn, and we have given thanks to the ancestors for another good harvest.

Though my family has not sold produce at the farmers markets in years, our garden is surrounded by other HMoob growers who do. They are there before we’ve arrived, and they are always the last to leave. Throughout the season, we watch as they tend to the land and haul buckets of green beans and potatoes into the shade. When our watermelons are ripe, my mother cuts them open and hands out large slices to growers nearby who are gathering flowers for the next day’s market. In return, I am gifted a summer bouquet and remember that we exist for each other.

I run into some of the same growers when visiting various markets, and though they have seen fewer people come to shop, they are grateful that people come. For as long as people still come, they will grow their produce and feed the Valley. The crowd may be smaller than in previous summers, but the farmers markets continue to offer an array of colorful produce, sweet berries, warm kolaches, and my new favorite, birch log birdhouses.

Now with the end of the harvest upon us, my family has been gathering and drying seeds, a practice that has preserved our history and culture over the years, and my mother is busy filling each of our freezers with this summer’s bounty. We have gathered and boiled the HMoob corn, and we have given thanks to the ancestors for another good harvest.

The HMoob New Year will be celebrated differently this year. We most likely will not gather for a ball toss or cultural performances. There will be no need to worry about getting pepper sauce on traditional outfits or sticky fingers from spilled nab vam. However, all across the world, HMoob people will be celebrating in their homes, perhaps boiling corn too and filling chest freezers full of green beans, eggplants, and squash shoots.

This has certainly not been the year that any of us anticipated, and though I’m not sure what 2021 has to offer, I do know that my mother and I will return to the garden next April. We will call the crops and ask them to grow, and we know they will hear us.

They will answer.

Yia Lor is a storyteller and writer from Eau Claire. She shares her time with her family, her yoga mat, and 30+ houseplants.

* The term “HMoob” is used instead of the anglicized term “Hmong” to reclaim the term that defines this ethnic group. The “h” and “m” are capitalized to be inclusive of White Hmoob and Green Moob.