Engineering student project helps Hmong farmers

Members of the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) got a preview of their new Brussels sprouts harvester last week. HAFA is a cooperative that owns 150 acres near Rosemount, MN. The Hmong farmers rent 5- or 10-acre plots, growing a variety of vegetables for sale at local farmers markets, cafeterias, and restaurants.

Because each family rents the same plot year after year, it’s worth the effort to use sustainable farming methods. These include crop rotation and planting cover crops that limit erosion and fix nitrogen from the air in the soil. Such practices promote soil health.

About half of the Hmong farmers grow Brussels sprouts. They had been removing the sprouts from the stalks by hand, a laborious process that made their sprouts too expensive to compete against commercially-produced sprouts.

Engineering students in the Senior Design Clinic at the University of St. Thomas designed and built a Brussels sprouts harvester to remove the sprouts quickly and easily. With this machine, what was a laborious process now takes only 30 seconds per stalk. Because of the students’ work, the farmers are in a better position to sell their sprouts profitably.