HAYFORK, Calif. — The red and purple opium poppies that his family grew on a mountainside half a world away were filled with an intoxicating, sticky sap that his mother traded for silver coins to feed her children and pay for their escape.
Adam Lee smiles at the memory of a childhood in war-torn Laos and voyage to America, where he spent decades adapting to life in big cities.
Now 47 years old, Mr. Lee has returned to the mountains — the Trinity Alps of Northern California — and to a career farming a different mind-altering crop for his livelihood: marijuana.
“We’ve got big dreams,” Mr. Lee said from a hilltop overlooking his marijuana farm.
Mr. Lee is part of a diaspora of about 1,000 ethnic Hmong families who have come to this remote and relatively poor corner of California to grow marijuana.
California is home to the largest population of Hmong in the United States, with nearly 100,000, and most initially settled in the Central Valley. Over the last decade, many have moved north, and others from around the country are migrating to this part of California to take advantage of the growing marijuana trade.
They are a small slice of what has become a huge industry across…