In the spring of 2004 Dr. Gary Kociemba, then principal of Henry High, proposed that the expansive area on the east side of the Henry High campus be converted into a place for Henry families and neighbors to garden. He felt that this unused space of lawn would be a way of reaching out to the neighborhood and provide a chance for individuals of generations to come to grow food on common ground for their household sustenance.
Word was spread door to door, via students, school communications, and by local businesses that an opportunity was open for joining the Henry High Family Garden. Initially four families indicated interest. Parents of one student brought in a tiller and the ground was prepared. Participants were given a “key” to turn on the water when needed. They agreed to keep their allotted plots tidy. No pesticides or herbicides were ever to be used on the garden.
Students and staff have had the pleasure of seeing and waving to community and family members farming outside their school windows. Over the years, some families lost interest in keeping their commitment as their children graduated or they did not have the time and energy to continue their gardening at Henry. With the increase in the number of Hmong students at Henry, more of their parents and grandparents choose to participate in Henry’s food garden. Farming is an integral part of Hmong culture, having been perfected for generations in Asia, with practices carried to the United States.
Currently there are two families growing food for their households. The principal gardener this year is Lao Xiong, who with her husband Chou Seng Vang, have 14 children, six of whom have gone to Henry High. Their children are Wit, Mong, Xang, Sue, Bao, Dee, Lue, Lu, Nalee, Mao, Kevin, Tee, Chan and Gao Nu. Xang served as a Henry staff member for six years. Chan is currently a 12th grader. It is anticipated that middle-schooler Gao Nu will be enrolled at Henry High in the future. We would love to continue the Vang legacy at this school! Thank you to this family for their steadfast care of Henry’s Family Community Garden.
Thank you to the persons who have provided upkeep and replenished soil throughout the years including: Camden resident, parent and grandparent of alumni, Lisa Belmares Schnapp; the late Daryl Blackowiak; volunteer employees of Boston Scientific; Henry High Herobotics students; Henry staff member David Sylvestre; community member Susan Breedlove; the City of Minneapolis; and The Cal Ripkin Foundation. Some vegetable plants have been contributed by Malmborg’s Garden Center.
The accompanying photo is of the Henry Family Community Garden ready for 2021 planting. My traditional hand-hewn hoe hanging on the fence [pictured in the left-hand corner] was made by Tou Pao Lee, whose children all graduated from Henry. I believe in supporting my North End Hardware store, but nothing will replace this sharp implement. Such handywork is yet another honed skill of another Hmong farmer, a member of the Henry High family.