Pa Cha’s beautiful white hair is tied back, exposing her lovely face with rosy cheeks and a gentle, confident smile. Her feet almost dance as she moves from bucket to bucket within the confines of her stall at Pike Place Market, gathering some leaves here, pulling out a tulip there, grabbing some fragrant hyacinths to add to her bouquet. Her movements are fluid, easy, graceful. One bouquet after another is completed and displayed. This is her sixth day in a row working fifteen to eighteen-hour days, yet she looks as fresh as if just returning from a two-week vacation.
Her farm, New Garden, was the first Hmong farm at Pike Place Market to start growing flowers and not just vegetables. “No one taught us how to grow flowers. We just taught ourselves,” Pa says. “We observed what grew in people’s yards. Whichever ones were tall and big, we’d choose those [to grow].” Pa laughs at herself for having been so naïve in the beginning.
After growing flowers for twenty-eight years, Pa knows what it takes to be a successful farmer. She explains, “Hmong can do many things. They may have just a few different flowers, but they know how to gather greens and wild plants to mix with their flowers so that they can sell their flowers.” Hmong people also have the advantage of a rich history in creating beautiful embroidery patterns with eye-catching color combinations, and many Hmong women, like Pa, have transferred that to the art of floral design.
Pa arrived in America at the age of sixteen, already married to Tong and without an education. She raised her six children, and when they were old enough to be left at home, she started farming. With limited English but buckets of courage, Pa began selling her flowers and vegetables at Pike Place Market. Her determination and resourcefulness have allowed her to build a thriving business that she and Tong will be able to leave to their children one day, though, if her bountiful energy is any indication, that day may be a long time in coming.
Written April 2020 by Xee Yang-Schell.
Xee was born in a village in northern Laos. Her family fled the village in 1974, she lived in a Thai refugee camp for 5 years before arriving in Shoreline, WA at the age of 8. Her mother, Sua was one of the first Hmong farmers to bring her flowers to the Pike Place Market. Xee is a graduate of Shorecrest High School and Seattle University, mother of two and Bothell resident.