Greeley’s Hanmei Hoffman learns about farming differences between China and U.S.
To find out more about Hoffman Farms or Hops and Peppers, visit the Hoffman Farms, LLC, Facebook page or www.hopsandpeppers.com. They can also be reached at (970) 978-6765.
When Hanmei Hoffman tells her childhood friends she grew up to be a farmer, they can’t believe it.
Hoffman and her friends all left the farm life behind in Putian, a village in southeast China and her hometown. Now those friends mostly work in the Chinese factories and high-rises while she and her husband Derrick grow fruits and veggies on their small farm, Hoffman Farms, in north Greeley.
Hoffman’s married name isn’t exactly indicative of her Chinese upbringing, and she still speaks in a Chinese accent — though it’s not as thick as it once was. Her English reflects the decade she’s spent in the U.S., even if she still feels self conscious about it sometimes.
As a young girl on the farm in Putian, she never imagined the technology American farmers work with on a daily basis. Growing up, technology was found in the city, mostly. They didn’t have running water and used an outhouse until about 20 years ago. She doesn’t have pictures of her childhood because they didn’t have a camera in the country town. She also said they didn’t have a TV until her teen years. Even then it was a small one.
“I grew up with my grandparents in a little village. Over there … everything, you work by hand. They don’t have a big section of land like this,” Hoffman said, pointing around to the open fields surrounding her north Greeley home. “They can only farm a little bit because they don’t have lots of machines.”
She said they used oxen instead of tractors. They even harvested by hand — a task that was painstaking for crops such as rice, a staple for Hoffman’s family.
“I remember my parents and my grandparents and all the kids, we went to the field, and we used the moon-shaped knife and cut a bunch. Then we used a container, and we had to shake, shake, shake the rice inside the container,” she said.
Maybe because of those hard days in the fields, Hoffman’s mom wanted her to do something else.
“My mom didn’t want me to be a farmer, so she sent me to school,” she said. “(My parents) sent me to college, and I learned English.”
In college, she enrolled in an exchange-student program that brought her to the University of Colorado in Boulder.
Hoffman met Derrick, who comes from a family of Weld County farmers.
“We always joke that we met on farmersonly.com,” Hoffman said.
Derrick has the background, and Hoffman spent her life on a farm, but together they’re learning the ropes of running their own operation. They grow fruits, vegetables and they even have a 5-acre hop yard. Hoffman likes to grow things she can’t find at the farmers markets here, like authentic Chinese beans and veggies.
“In the beginning we just practiced in our garden,” Hanmei said. “We didn’t do anything commercial or for the market.”
They’ve since expanded into farmers markets.
She said there are many differences when it comes to food in China.
In China, they dry food on the roads, because it’s the only place with a blacktop surface.
“Now that I recall, it’s probably not very good food safety,” she said with a laugh, but she did point out she didn’t have problems with food spoiling or eating food that had gone bad because in China there is a premium put on fresh food.
“In China, every family, they go shopping in the morning,” she said. Every morning. “It’s kind of like a flea market or farmers market here.”
Hoffman said they buy food right out of the ground.
“A big difference, here the vegetable, you have to wash it and make it nice and clean to go to the market, but in China we don’t have that much time to do that,” Hoffman said. “We just cut everything from the field and people go home to clean it.”
Hoffman said at the market, everything is alive or as close as possible.
“The clams, they keep them in the water, and the clam opens up so people can see, ‘Oh, this is totally fresh,’” she said. “They don’t care if they have to go back and clean up everything.”
Hoffman said she’s happy with all the new opportunities she’s had here in Greeley to learn new things. She’s learned how to farm in the dry, hot climate, a climate much different from the tropical one where she lived.
She said she takes classes here to learn about new things, like beekeeping. She hopes to build more beehives this year and take her hive count from one to 11 this season.
Staying home and tending to the farm also allows her to spend time with her two daughters, Hannah, 4 and Zoey, 2.
Hannah already has the farming gene. Hoffman said they can’t keep her out of the dirt.
Zoey likes to stick with mom wherever she goes, so she’ll probably be growing flowers before her fifth birthday.
Hoffman said she’s happy to be back to the farming lifestyle, no matter how different is it. She said she even learned how to drive a tractor — something she never thought she’d do. ❖