Mother Daughter Series: Shin and Le Xieng Ho, Part One

Dan and I drove out one Sunday to Ho Farms, a 40-acre farm in the Kahuku-area of Oahu’s North Shore. At only 28, Shin is well-known in the Hawaii food and ag community for being part of the next generation of farming in Hawaii – innovative, market-savvy – trading a career on the mainland for a chance to help her family’s farm.

Shin and her mother Le Xieng, took time out of their Sunday harvesting and packing schedule to talk with us. We walked along the rows of greenhouses that allows them to achieve a consistency they crave and to keep spraying down to an absolute minimum. Food Safety certified and Seal of Quality-approved, Ho Farms supplied the state of Hawaii with nearly 100,000 pounds of produce in 2009. They specialize in 6 varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers, long beans, eggplant and squash.

They are a tight family of four – father Wei Chong, mother Le Xieng, Shin and her brother Neal – and they run the farm together. Le Xieng laughs about how it is four minds running the business with four different visions. Now they have employees to help with the day to day operations, but it started out with just them: a young family who made the treacherous journey from Laos to Hawaii, unafraid of hard work but learning the hard way that the only way to really make a fair and good living was to work for yourself.

After a series of jobs from truck driving to taxicabbing, Mr. Ho made a go at farming. Le Xieng, watching him come home so late every night, left her seamstress work and set aside fashion design classes at HCC to help him. After a few years of shuttling back and forth from their home in Palolo to the farm in Kahuku, and seeing so little of their children because of their farming and commuting hours, the Ho’s decided to pack up their family and move to Kahuku.

As we walked along the rows of cucumber plants, hundreds of them, broad leaf and emerald green, Le Xieng talks about those years and you can feel how they must have been a blur – full of work and growth – when she mentions how her children must have felt. How her husband’s brother was the one to take them to the zoo, to the movies. How she and her husband would buy them trips to Disneyland but would be unable to go, unable to leave the farm untended. How there was nothing for her kids to do in Kahuku, no where to go. Later, Shin talks about growing up in Kahuku, how she wouldn’t trade it for anything. And you can see that mother daughter thing in these things, the worrying and the caring. The guilt and the love. But when it comes to the farm, they both say it: it’s about constantly finding a better way to do things. And respecting each other. That’s a big one.

Shin tells me that they respect each other’s ability to work hard. I also suspect that they respect each other’s opinion because they trust that each has the best interest of the farm in mind. A common goal.

And I wonder how it must have felt for the Ho’s when Shin and Neal after living on the mainland and earning college degrees, took up the challenge of coming back to the farm with the intent of taking it to the next level. It took a lot of trust and belief in their children for the elder Ho’s to accept and implement what Shin and Neal, with the help of Shin’s boyfriend at the time, had in mind – which was a completely new branding and market strategy. In a matter of months, they applied to get into Costco, got in, developed a logo, a branding and marketing strategy. This was the start of a whole different kind of farming. One that allowed Ho Farm to start commanding the respect and prices that comes with a branded farm. Branding, getting Food Safety Certified and Seal of Quality approved, only helped their farm to be recognized for the good work they were already doing.

Marketing is not the only kind of innovation going on at the farm. The Ho’s are always researching and experimenting with sustainable farming methods, so far the greenhouses have proven to be worth their weight in gold.

They are also social innovators. Shin mentions that their main top goals for their farm is to be able to supply the community with enough food, to have their farm be one of the greatest and most rewarding places for people to work, and to be able to help other small family farms in the community take their produce to the next level too. And it can and will happen. The Ho’s are part of the Laotian community in Hawaii, a community that is small but increasingly keeping much agricultural land in production on Oahu alive and productive through small leased plots run by families. These families are part of the legacy of farming world-wide and they are part of the future of farming in Hawaii. Lisa Asagi- She grows food correspondent

Check out Part Two of Ho Farm’s mother and daughter team – we talk about the future of their farm, farming in Hawaii and the role of community.

Recipe: Long beans with red curry paste

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3 Responses to “Mother Daughter Series: Shin and Le Xieng Ho, Part One”

  1. I love this, what a fantastic insight into a family working together! Thank you for sharing your world with us!

  2. oscar says:

    Its great! while i am watching the videos I missed it, because I had the chance working with them last year and I really want to work with Ho farms again. I pray that more blessings and success to their farm business.

  3. Cinnie Frith says:

    I find your story the essence of insight and hope-the realization that we all need to grow, change and accept the personal challenges and responsibility that will allow us to achieve a dream. I find myself smiling, shaking my head in agreement and filling up on the brink of tears as you share these intimate family experiences and details of daily life.
    Having spent over 40 years with our own family business-no,it wasn’t farming, but I’ve always had flowers and veggies in my home gardens-I can closely relate to your sense of responsibility for your employees’ welfare. This sense goes with the territory of being the “boss”, the owner-and makes you the master of your destiny. Keep at it-your on to something great!