Farmer Interview – Sar Mu Na

Posted on February 5, 2024 by Alicia Alferman

Sar Mu Na is a farmer as devoted to her vegetables and flowers as she is to her own children. She was born in Burma, but circumstances forced her family’s move to Thailand before ultimately finding their way to California in 2006. In 2012, she decided to move to Kansas City to be closer to her sisters, and since then, she hasn’t slowed down building on her skill and business. Sar Mu Na graduated from the New Roots program in 2016 and started her business, Mo Mo Ru Tha Farm. She lives and grows on her own property, complete with a high tunnel in Kansas City, KS, and she’s built quite the fan base at the Overland Park Farmers Market, where she sells her produce. 

Recently, Courtney Hattaway, with translation by Veronica Ma Ket, interviewed Sar Mu Na about her farming journey.

Veronica Ma Ket (l) with Sar Mu Na (r) while she showed us around her farm.

How many acres do you farm?
I’ve never measured it, but I think about a half-acre- ¼ here at my home and a ¼ at my neighbor’s house, plus my high tunnel here. 

Do you own a farm or lease it from someone else?
I own this side of the land, but the neighbor lets me grow on the lot next door to my house also, at no cost. I don’t think she’ll ever ask me to pay to farm it. She grows food at her own house, so she doesn’t need the land here.

Growing variety of vegetables means we need more space, and sometimes that’s difficult. I would love more space to grow corn and more flowers.

What made you decide to become a farmer?
I inherited this from my parents and grandparents to pass on to my children, I want my family to eat healthier, and I want to support my children through school, and show them how to grow healthy vegetables themselves.

How long have you been a farmer?
About 30 years. I was born in Burma, and my parents and grandparents taught me how to grow fruit there, like jackfruit. We lived in Thailand for five years after that, and we had a space to grow food to eat, but much smaller, like a garden. We moved to California in 2006 and had a garden but had to work a factory job. We then moved here after my sister did and started at Juniper Gardens in 2012.

How do you decide which crops to grow?
I see what my farmers market customers like the most and go from there.

What is your favorite food to grow and eat?
Carrots are my favorite to grow. It’s a lot easier than other crops to grow for me. You water it a couple times and you’re able to harvest it very easily. My favorite vegetable to grow and eat is cucumber!

Have you had difficulty gaining access to farmland? If so, how did you overcome this obstacle?
Right after I graduated from New Roots, I talked to Jessica Zieg, a local agent who worked with Catholic Charities. She is a real estate agent, and she helped me to get this house and land; because it was her house, she sold it to me. It had some space, so I grabbed it! It was really good for me.

Other than land access, what significant challenges do you face as a farmer?
The biggest challenge would be not having a cooler to store my vegetables. I do store in the house, but how do I work it? I harvest all the root vegetables first because they are the ones that keep longer, not like a leafy green. I harvest roots on Thursday, and then on Friday I try my best to harvest all the leafy ones to put in the house. I try to do fruit or root first, so when I take it to market it looks really nice. I don’t want my customer to look at my vegetables and think, oh that doesn’t look that great, I don’t want to buy. I want my vegetables to look good and pretty at the farmers market.

I’ve tried to adapt to the weather here, and I try to grow in my high tunnel if I can’t grow something outside. Sometimes it’s hard because customers want certain vegetables and they won’t grow if it’s too hot or too cold.

What’s your most recent accomplishment that you’re proud of?
I’m proud of selling flowers this year. I feel that I make a lot of profit from flowers, compared to other vegetables. Flowers are the best. Previous years I’ve sold flowers, but this year I added two or three more varieties to sell.

What are your plans for the future of your farm – anything for which you’re thinking of applying for a Get Farming Mini Grant?
The only thing I’m thinking for my future plans is buying a cooler. It’s kind of priority. I do have space designated for vegetables and I use an a/c unit, but it just doesn’t work that well.

What motivates you to keep going even when times are tough?
When you have a language barrier and maybe not all the materials needed to apply for grants, it makes you want to give up. I’m not giving up though, because I think about the grants that will come in the future if I apply again, and for now I’m just going to be a stay at home mom and take care of my kids, and farming helps me be able to keep doing that.

What do you love most about farming?
I love getting more knowledge. I love learning and participating in the New Roots program and learning from other people, especially about the weather and growing here.

If you had to choose one thing for the general public to know about farming, what would it be?
Farming gives you the benefit of health. Going to the market and seeing customers makes me happy, and it makes me happier to connect and make friends with my customers.

Purchase the produce and flowers Sar Mu Na grows at the Overland Park Farmers Market on Saturdays starting April 20th and Wednesdays starting June 5th!