There were approximately700 Southeast Asian farmers in Fresno County, 100 in Merced County and 50 in Tulare County in 1999/2000. Over two dozen different varieties of Asian crops are grown on a combined total of 3,000 acres. The Southeast Asian refugees introduced many of these crops to the United States in the early 1980s. Some of these new crops are Thai-long-bean, Thai-cherry-eggplant, bitter-melon, white-guard, lufa, bok-choy, gailan, which are rich in protein. Many small farmers are anxious to succeed in farming and contribute to California’s important agricultural economy.
To succeed in United States, Southeast Asian farmers must change many of their traditional farming practices and concepts. Marketing, resource management, regulations, crop research, pesticide, amendments, land selection, finances and much more must be understood if they are to succeed. Where will they learn these farming skills? The opportunities are very limited since there is a language barrier. There are virtually no teaching materials, limited or no research on the new crops, and trust issues are all issues. All these barriers must be overcome if these small farmers are to succeed and contribute to the agricultural economy.
The Southeast Asian Specialty Crop Experimental Project, (SEASCEP) at California State University of Fresno, was designed to provide such assistance. The goal was to provide Southeast Asian farmers with a basic understanding of water, nutrient, weed, disease, pest and frost management. They learned record keeping needed to maintain their farming documentation required to qualify for USDA programs and financial institution loans. Additionally, a student outreach program was designed to help point out the importance of the job availability of agricultural careers. It continues to encourage the younger generation to get involved in agricultural fields and to bridge the gap between the younger and the older generations.