Nung girl finds a way out after losing her company because of Covid-19

Lang SonWhen receiving news that corn noodles products were on the shelves of organic food supermarkets in Hanoi, Da Nang, and Ho Chi Minh City, Minh Hong even had tears running down his face.

Hoang Thi Minh Hong remembers clearly, it was September 19, a “historic milestone” marking her successful start-up career after two years of hardship because of Covid-19.

Before returning to “live and die” with corn cobs of Quyet Thang commune, Huu Lung district, Hong used to own a clean food store in Lang Son city and since 2019 has operated a travel company.

While operating well, when the pandemic hit, her company was among tens of thousands of businesses that had to leave the market.

Minh Hong in front of the vast corn valley in Quyet Thang commune, Huu Lung district, early 2021. Photo: Characters provided

The 28-year-old girl rotates horizontally and vertically to find a way to live. During a conversation with an agricultural product export group known from the clean food business, Hong received a suggestion to produce and supply noodles, including noodles made from corn for export to European countries. The need to store dry goods in the context of the epidemic caused the export of noodles and noodles to thrive.

Corn is the food that feeds the Nung people in Huu Lung and brings the three Hong sisters to the university lecture hall. In the most arduous but peaceful memory region, there are always shadows of stuffed rice meals, corn porridge, precarious cakes or popcorn.

“Hearing the word corn noodles, I feel like an ancient call echoes in me. I once dreamed of making a product with a ‘barcode’ in my hometown and wondered if this was my chance,” Hong said. tell.

In Europe, pasta made from naturally farmed corn is the premium product, in part because corn doesn’t contain gluten – a substance that healthy eaters try to avoid. The more he researched, the more Minh Hong saw that corn noodles had a future. After two weeks of planning, she left her husband and children in the city, returning to her hometown 100 kilometers away.

Minh Hong and her sister contacted to import machinery from abroad, build factories, plan corn planting as well as complete legal procedures… During last year’s summer-autumn corn crop, she appealed to them. products that grow native maize varieties, are not genetically modified and use buffalo, cow and goat manure to replace chemical fertilizers and do not use herbicides. Particularly, Hong’s family focused on building factories.

Noodles and vermicelli are familiar dishes of Vietnamese people. Hong’s family also used to make rice vermicelli to eat. At first, she thought that making corn noodles was similar, but when she started working on it, it was completely different.

In the first batch, the corn did not produce fibers, where it was ripe. The essence of corn is not sticky like rice, it just pops out. Hong thinks the problem is in raw flour, so the next batch needs to be cooked. She adjusted the machine, made the dough again, this time the finished product was solid lumps. Looking at 40 kg of corn, the finished product is no different from stone, Mr. Hoang Van Hoa and Hong’s father sighed: “Throw the dead buffalo”.

It improves gradually, from big lumps to smaller ones, then broken yarns. Days and nights, the whole family put their hearts into it, Hong’s notebook was filled with details in batches without any positive signs.

In the meantime, accidents kept coming. In one time Mr. Hoa was welding a yarn press when he hit the back of his hand against an iron bar, blood gushed out. The mother and daughter panicked and took their father to the emergency room.

Minh Hong still has to take care of his father and unfinished batch of flour. She asked her brother-in-law with experience in mechanics to come and fix it. The same machine and the same weld, the younger brother’s toe was broken. More blood was shed this time. “Those days I couldn’t sleep. I worried too much, if something more dangerous happened,” she confided.

Hong decided to scoop up the powder, stop production for a few weeks to let her loved ones rest and also give herself a chance to reassure. When her father was well, she hired a few more workers to run the factory together. This was thought to have been smooth, unexpectedly about a month after operating the automatic noodle machine, Mr. Hoa was hit by the hand of the machine in his left eye, causing his eyes to swell and tears to flow continuously. This time he was hospitalized for a month.

“I’m really depressed. I’m tormented by the thought that because of me, my loved ones are also on a difficult path,” Hong confided.

Recalling that time, Mr. Hoa also recognized the mood of his eldest daughter. After this accident, Hong told her parents to stop for a while, and Mr. Hoa encouraged her: “Try to finish this round and wait for a new batch of corn”.

Hoang Thi Minh Hong is selecting the first old corn of this crop to make noodles, early October 2021.  Photo: Character provided.

Hoang Thi Minh Hong is selecting the first old corn of this season to make noodles, early October 2021. Photo: Character provided.

One evening in late spring 2021, Hong came out to check the pot of flour, smelling like the smell of fermented fruit. She was surprised that she had never had a dough like that before. She frantically called to her mother to see if “my nose is a problem”.

Mrs. Nhung picked up a handful of powder and brought it close to her nose. An attractive sweet scent, completely different from the strong smell of the previous times. Overjoyed, mother and daughter hugged each other and danced.

This change in the batch of flour marks a turning point in the research process and put the stages on the reels. From here, the family continues to improve the noodles and colors. By July, that is, after nearly a year of experimentation with more than a hundred failures and 5 tons of corn being discarded, the Hong family had created soft, supple noodles that still retain the fragrant corn flavor.

The product was officially launched on 8/8. The price per kg of corn noodles is 258,000 VND, much more expensive than rice noodles, but still attracts customers who eat healthy, especially those who want to lose weight.

Mr. Lai Van Thom, chairman of Quyet Thang commune, Huu Lung district, shared that there are some young people in the commune who have returned to their hometown to do business, but usually only focus on opening livestock farms. Minh Hong is the only one to set up a large-scale cooperative, which in the future will help create jobs for people and consume agricultural products.

If there were only a few households in the previous two crops, from this season she is working with dozens of households growing corn in the valleys. Maize is cultivated naturally, so the output is not as high as before, but Hong buys higher than the market, so people are excited.

Since the product was introduced to the market, almost every day, Hong has received strength from customer feedback. Last week, a customer in Hanoi thanked her for creating “wonderful products out of old ordinary things”. The guest said that Hong’s corn-based noodles reminded them of the hungry years, the corn-filled rice bowls when the home rice bowl had run out.

“Every time I eat noodles, I see those old things come to life, bringing a feeling that is both a motivation for the present and makes me feel at peace,” said the guest.

Phan Duong


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