Gaston & Catawba

A harvest of his old homeland

Chouvue Khang started harvesting his garden this month.

But instead of picking tomatoes, corn or squash, like his neighbors are gathering, he brought in rice.

The staple of many Asian diets, counterpart to the Western bread, rice sustains Khang and his family as it did his ancestors in his native Laos.

The Khang family eats rice for breakfast, for lunch and for dinner, so they need lots of it to get them through the year.

Remembering rice planting and harvesting from the old country – before they immigrated to America almost 30 years ago – Khang and his wife, Ying, keep up the practice at their home on the outskirts of Conover, next to the Hickory border.

Brilliantly green, its long leaves flowing in the occasional summer breeze, the large field of rice sticks out on Spencer Road, a hilly street of neatly kept homes near an industrial area.

The occasional passerby stops and pulls in the Khangs' driveway to ask about the mystery field.

“They ask me, ‘What is that?' said Chouvue, a genial man who works at a plant in Mooresville. “People don't grow rice around here.”

Other Hmong people in the area plant rice paddies, Khang said, but they live in the country, not in a city like Hickory, so their crops go largely unnoticed by neighbors.

Since the Khangs moved to this property eight years ago, they have raised rice each year. In March, Ying seeds the rice and covers it with plastic to protect it from frost. In late April, Chouvue transfers the young plants to the field, which he waters from a pump in a creek on the edge of their lot. They plant sticky rice, brown rice and “regular,” or white, rice.

Chouvue carefully tends the paddies as the rice grows, keeping an electric fence around the perimeter of the field to keep out muskrats. Cardinals and bluebirds sample the rice grains, but not enough to worry about.

About two weeks ago, the plants were ready for harvesting. Chouvue strapped a basket on his shoulder, pulled on rubber boots and took a small set of clippers to the paddies to cut off the grains from the tops of the plants, cicadas softly serenading him as he worked.

It will take him most of August to finish his cutting, which he does in the mornings before he reports to the plant. After the first day of harvesting, his back and legs were sore from the work.

He and Ying set the grains out in the sun to dry, ground them in a vegetable processor and placed them in a flat basket to shake off the shells. They stored the rice in four large rubber barrels and saved some seed to plant next year.

The crop, which yields about 400 pounds of rice, still won't be enough to feed the family for the year, Chouvue said, so they will have to buy some regular rice from the store because that's the type their children prefer.

Like other Hmong, the Khangs immigrated to the United States as refugees from the effects of the Vietnam War. They now call America home, though a taste of the old country is still a special treat.

When the family moved to Spencer Road, Chouvue planned where he would put the paddies. “This all tree,” he said, motioning to indicate the formerly wooded quarter-acre plot where he planted them. He had the trees cut down and pulled a lot of weeds.

The Khangs don't have to go to all this trouble. They can easily buy all the rice they need. But raising their own connects them to Laos and enhances their eating experience.

“When steam the rice,” Chouvue said, “it smell like a new crop.”

Chouvue Khang started harvesting his garden this month.

But instead of picking tomatoes, corn or squash, like his neighbors are gathering, he brought in rice.

The staple of many Asian diets, counterpart to the Western bread, rice sustains Khang and his family as it did his ancestors in his native Laos.

The Khang family eats rice for breakfast, for lunch and for dinner, so they need lots of it to get them through the year.

Remembering rice planting and harvesting from the old country – before they immigrated to America almost 30 years ago – Khang and his wife, Ying, keep up the practice at their home on the outskirts of Conover, next to the Hickory border.

Brilliantly green, its long leaves flowing in the occasional summer breeze, the large field of rice sticks out on Spencer Road, a hilly street of neatly kept homes near an industrial area.

The occasional passerby stops and pulls in the Khangs' driveway to ask about the mystery field.

“They ask me, ‘What is that?' said Chouvue, a genial man who works at a plant in Mooresville. “People don't grow rice around here.”

Other Hmong people in the area plant rice paddies, Khang said, but they live in the country, not in a city like Hickory, so their crops go largely unnoticed by neighbors.

Since the Khangs moved to this property eight years ago, they have raised rice each year. In March, Ying seeds the rice and covers it with plastic to protect it from frost. In late April, Chouvue transfers the young plants to the field, which he waters from a pump in a creek on the edge of their lot. They plant sticky rice, brown rice and “regular,” or white, rice.

Chouvue carefully tends the paddies as the rice grows, keeping an electric fence around the perimeter of the field to keep out muskrats. Cardinals and bluebirds sample the rice grains, but not enough to worry about.

About two weeks ago, the plants were ready for harvesting. Chouvue strapped a basket on his shoulder, pulled on rubber boots and took a small set of clippers to the paddies to cut off the grains from the tops of the plants, cicadas softly serenading him as he worked.

It will take him most of August to finish his cutting, which he does in the mornings before he reports to the plant. After the first day of harvesting, his back and legs were sore from the work.

He and Ying set the grains out in the sun to dry, ground them in a vegetable processor and placed them in a flat basket to shake off the shells. They stored the rice in four large rubber barrels and saved some seed to plant next year.

The crop, which yields about 400 pounds of rice, still won't be enough to feed the family for the year, Chouvue said, so they will have to buy some regular rice from the store because that's the type their children prefer.

Like other Hmong, the Khangs immigrated to the United States as refugees from the effects of the Vietnam War. They now call America home, though a taste of the old country is still a special treat.

When the family moved to Spencer Road, Chouvue planned where he would put the paddies. “This all tree,” he said, motioning to indicate the formerly wooded quarter-acre plot where he planted them. He had the trees cut down and pulled a lot of weeds.

The Khangs don't have to go to all this trouble. They can easily buy all the rice they need. But raising their own connects them to Laos and enhances their eating experience.

“When steam the rice,” Chouvue said, “it smell like a new crop.”

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