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Cooking up change

Posted 8:49 a.m. Monday, June 24, 2024

Bao Xiong, May 2024 graduate with degrees in English and Theatre Performance, started the show, “Cooking with Bao” in 2020 during pandemic to raise money for Hmong farmers. Her volunteer work to launch a non-profit organization has resulted in securing numerous grants and donations to support Hmong farmers.

Alumna supports Hmong farmers with cooking show featuring local-produce-inspired dishes 

During the pandemic, Bao Xiong noticed Hmong farmers disproportionality affected, struggling to secure COVID grants and relief funds. Some were losing their businesses and unable to meet basic needs. 

“I think a lot of people can resonate with the feeling of seeing someone close to them in need and wondering what they can do about it,” says Xiong. “A lot of these farmers had struggles even before the pandemic, and they depended on the market for their livelihood.” 

In response Xiong created a non-profit organization focused on rebuilding and sustaining Hmong farmer’s businesses by securing grants, raising awareness and advocating for the community. Her message put a strong emphasis on shopping local for fresh food to support local growers.  

Xiong launched her non-profit using social media, her voice and communication skills gained from a degree in visual communications from Western Technical College and subsequent degrees in English and Theatre Performance from UW-La Crosse. 

“My degrees have empowered me to explore multiple avenues of expressing my voice. Using my voice is one of my strengths,” she says. “Sometimes the only way to do things is to talk about it. If it is important to me, I’m going to talk about it.” 

Xiong began by posting photos and videos on Facebook and Instagram from the farmer’s market, encouraging people to shop for local, fresh food. Her photos of dishes made with local ingredients often prompted questions from followers about how to make them. This led Xiong to create a YouTube channel and start a cooking show featuring seasonal produce, “Cooking with Bao.” Episodes were released in coordination with the growing season and local farmers market offerings, featuring dishes such as: 

  • Pad-Thai 
  • Salmon bowl 
  • Dumplings 
  • Korean barbeque 
  • Pho 
  • Gnocchi 

A recipe for success

Bao Xiong with partners in Season 3 of "Cooking with Bao." Throughout her cooking show, Xiong encourages flexibility in preparing the dishes. “Sometimes I don’t follow recipes to a T. I create the foundation for the dishes, and I encourage people to add the flavors and seasonings they like,” she says.

Xiong collaborated with creative friends and foodies, Dylan Overhouse Productions, Mike Makes, as well as Amy Gabay and Brent Hanifl, of La Crosse Local, to create the episodes. Some episodes feature guest hosts like Abram Dyke, Chef Luke Zahm, host of Wisconsin Foodie, and Xiong’s mother and aunt. The show’s charm lies in its authenticity, with all quirks left in. 

“We try to keep it simple,” Xiong said. “If you watch the show, you’ll see I mess up a lot. Sometimes food is burning while the host is talking!”  

When her mother, who speaks little English, came on the show as a guest host, Xiong needed to interpret, but the episode just as well could have gone without translation, she adds.   

“It’s two people cooking and enjoying a meal together,” she says. “I think food is its own language.” 

Xiong’s YouTube channel is not her only foray into film. She and her parents appeared on Season 10, Episode 3 of “Wisconsin Foodie” where they were interviewed on her parents' farm and at the farmer’s market at Cameron Park. 

Xiong recently wrapped up the third season of her cooking show, culminating with their 30th episode. Over three years, she has secured numerous grants and donations to meet the needs of Hmong farmers. The funds help cover startup costs such as seeds, land rental, and booth fees.  

Although she has not yet planned another season, all seasons are available online on her YouTube channel @cookingwithbao.  

Xiong says she has been surprised to have been called a “chef.” She says she is not a chef, but a home cook just like her audience. “I’m a person who likes to cook, and I love how food brings people together and bridges cultures and languages,” she says.  

A better title for herself is “storyteller,” she adds.  

“I tell stories that matter to me. I was telling a story about group of Hmong farmers in my community, and people just listened.” 

About her non-profit 

Bao Xiong created For Independent Hmong Farmers Corp, a non-profit that aims to  support independent Hmong farmers of the La Crosse County farmers' markets, focusing on rebuilding and sustaining their small businesses, while also combating food waste. To contribute to the non-profit contact Xiong via the For Independent Hmong Farmers Corp. Page 


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