Minh Dang of Vietnam set specific goals for himself while participating in the Professional Fellow’s Economic Empowerment Program. Placed on an organic farm in Montana, Minh wanted to learn as much as he could.
“My goal for the program is to gain knowledge of Organic Farming and network between farms and customers,” explains Minh. “I also want to discover American culture. I was told that Americans are very direct, open, and never care about others business. I feel great when people are direct and open to me, but what surprised me is that people in Montana are very nice, kind, and they do care. They care if I feel ok with the food, do I have warm clothes for the very cold weather in Montana. I was surprised about that, and most of all, I was touched with the people here in Montana.”
During his fellowship, Minh felt right at home with his fellowship host, Laura Garber, and her family.
“Living with Laura and Henry’s family made me feel like I was at home,” says Minh. “Beyond my goals in organic farming, they gave me many new and exciting experiences such as building an American style wood house and attending a Thanksgiving dinner with lots of friends just so I can imagine the atmosphere of Thanksgiving. I helped produce the turkey – from farmyard to table!”
Minh spent every day in his fellowship participating in the family’s activities, waking up and having a farm breakfast of eggs, milk, bread, and coffee, before helping take the kids to school. He and Laura then went to the greenhouse to take care of vegetables and planting. Afternoons were spent learning about the extended network of a farmer: working with partners in Community Supported Agriculture, buyers, colleagues on the Salish and Kootenai Reservation, seed repositories, and other important connections. In the evenings, Minh enjoyed dinners of locally-sourced food and spending time with his host family.
“Working and living in Homestead Organics Farm brought me a lot of experiences,” says Minh. “It helps me to have a healthier life style. Waking up on time, going to sleep earlier and doing more farm work makes me feel stronger and healthier. It will affect my daily life when I come back to my country because I already get used to this lifestyle and really enjoy it.”
Minh has pages of lessons learned to implement upon return to Vietnam, centered on protecting the land and engaging communities. He also learned a great deal from regional colleagues on the program with shared goals in Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.
It’s a wonderful experience to be in the U.S. and it’s totally different from my culture,” explains Minh. “At first I had a little hard time to adjust to U.S. culture with many new things such as: tipping, communication, food, and lifestyle. But I tried not to avoid but to face it and get use to the new environment. Americans are open and straight, so it’s better for me to just ask. It worked with me and helped a lot to get along with others. I’m very satisfied with what the program has provided me.”