Laurinburg, North Carolina
Ngockhanh (NG) Le and Gio-An Ho raise chickens in Laurinburg, North Carolina.
Agriculture is far from what NG and Gio-An expected to be doing with their adult lives, but life on their North Carolina farm has been a joy.
The day that changed everything
April 30, 1975, marked the Fall of Saigon and the communist takeover of Vietnam, which altered the course of both NG and Gio-An’s lives forever.
NG’s parents worked for the former government of Vietnam. When the communists took over, her father was sent to the training camps for six years and NG was only able to visit him once a year.
When her father was finally released, the traumatic experiences he’d had over the past six years had transformed him into an altogether different person. He was withdrawn, afraid, and would hide anytime he saw communist officials. Thinking of her future, NG knew she couldn’t go to college under the new government; she would automatically be penalized in her classes because her parents worked for the former government.
“We knew that we need to get out of our own country; that we needed to find freedom,” NG said.
Gio-An’s story was similar. He escaped Vietnam with his family in 1981, by boat to a refugee camp in Malaysia. The boat was only 36 feet long and carried nearly 120 people.
“We floated on the ocean for seven nights and six days with no food and no water. That’s something you don’t forget,” Gio-An said. His family lived at the refugee camp in Malaysia for almost a year, to learn English and become familiar with American customs.
Arriving in the U.S.
Both Gio-An and NG had siblings in the United States that could sponsor them upon their arrival. Gio-An’s family went to live in Wisconsin with his sister in 1982, while NG and her family traveled to California to live with her brother in 1991.
“We had many struggles and challenges in this new land — the culture, the language, the food, the weather. Everything was different. We tried to adapt and look for opportunities to become better,” Gio-An said.
NG didn’t know much English when she came to California but learned from her brother and his wife. She went to college and graduate school, graduating with a master’s degree. She and Gio-An met through the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement and, after many years of sustaining a long distance relationship, the two married and made a life for themselves in California. NG worked as a financial analyst and Gio-An worked for IBM as an engineer.
Starting over, again
Living in California, Gio-An and NG longed for something different, they just didn’t know what.
“When we heard about the opportunity to become farmers, it was something I would have never thought of,” NG said. “But, being able to be home with my kids growing up - that’s more important than anything - so we decided to give it a try.”
Their decision and desire to start farming was largely centered around their children.
“That was the only reason why we made the decision to move here—to have a better life for them and a better environment with less pollution and less traffic,” explained NG who decided to name their farm AJZ after their children, Aiden, Jacob and Zaria. “Everything we do is for our kids, so the name reflects that.”
Gio-An came to North Carolina first, to get started on the farm, and the rest of the family followed a few months later. When NG first saw her husband on the farm, riding a tractor, she was amazed. “Is that my husband? It was a change, and he adapted to it very well. I’m very proud of him,” NG said.
Farm Credit, a trusted partner
Gio-An and NG made a brave leap when they left desk jobs - and 20 years of family and friends in California - to move to North Carolina and pursue farming. However, despite all the unknowns, they have found a community in North Carolina; and that community includes Cape Fear Farm Credit.
The Ho family chose to become customer-owners of Cape Fear Farm Credit because of the services that Cape Fear provides and because of its close proximity to their farm.
“Whatever we need, they are right there. They are ready to help us,” said Gio-An.
NG appreciates the degree to which Cape Fear gives back to the community. Giving back is something about which the family feels strongly, and they do their best to give back, too.
“We are doing our best to give back—not just to the community but to the country that nurtured us.”
A version of this story first appeared in Cape Fear Farm Credit’s AgNews.