Food as Politics and Pride
Story by Nancy Cook; photos by millcitytimes
Dil Gurung is a family man and a determined small business farmer. Now in his third year in Minnesota Food Association’s training program, Dil is proud of his growing business. He and his family not only sell their produce through the Big River Farms CSA, but at local markets. He aims to increase his acreage and, maybe one day, raise animals.
Twenty-five years ago, growing up in a small mountain village in Bhutan, Dil could not have imagined the life he is now living. As citizens of an autocracy, his family, like 90% of the Bhutanese people, made their home on a small plot allotted by the government. Although a mountainous region, Bhutan boasts a more moderate climate than that found in Minnesota, and the Gurungs raised cash crops, including oranges, apples, and cardamom, as well as a variety of vegetables such as radishes, beans, corn, potatoes, peppers, turnips, and onions. Ensuring a successful crop was the job of everyone in the family.
Political upheaval forced the family to abandon their fifteen acres in Bhutan and relocate to Nepal, where they spent seventeen years as refugees. Another change of fortunes came in 2010 when the family made its way to Minnesota to join others with Bhutanese and Nepalese origins. Now firmly settled into a democratic society where everything from food and dress to industry and education is different, Dil’s basic focus remains the same. “Family is first,” he says. With two children in college and aging parents who also rely on him, Dil’s primary goal is to support the family. Community is very important, too. He takes pride in the growing Bhutanese Farm and in providing the community with “good products that help everyone.”
To fulfill his duties to family and community, and to see his dreams come to fruition, Dil knows he has to learn as much as possible about all aspects of farming. The weather here is a big challenge, for one thing. Mastering methods of planting, nurturing, and protecting organic produce takes time and effort. Dil has been impressed by what modern farm equipment can do and how easy it is to use. “People here have so much,” he observes, much more than they realize. He’d like people to understand safety issues, such as the need to know how to use equipment right. He’d also like people to understand the health benefits of organically grown food. Finally, he’d like people in government and the voters to be aware of the importance of improving the farming industry, especially through training and support of small businesses.