Give flowers to your mom and support local flower farms

By Rizaniño “Rice” Reyes
NORTH-WEST ASIA WEEKLY

Angie Vang from Cha Doua Lor Garden (Photo by Rizaniño “Riz” Reyes)

A familiar, festive sight to behold at Seattle’s Pike Place Market is sadly missing. The iconic flower stalls that draw massive daily crowds this time of year are eerily empty. Where are the hundreds of buckets full of tulips and daffodils? The white paper pockets stuffed with sumptuous flowers? What about the people tending these stalls: the Hmong, Mien and Filipino farmers? They’re still working from dusk till dawn, but they’re still trying to figure out what to do. For the 30-40 small flower growers who rely on the market as their only means of income, many have had to get creative and more assertive to keep their business afloat so you can find them in unexpected places outside of their farms.

White tents, propped up by familiar buckets of flowers being unloaded from a truck, can be found at various neighborhood convenience stores and even gas stations around Seattle and the Eastside. It’s easy to spot vibrant colors and feel compelled to stop. It’s far from the energy of a public market, but still inspiring: buckets of fragrant daffodils and a cheerful array of different tulips make up the center flowers of their extravagant bouquets. Xai Cha’s farm family members, wearing masks and gloves, waved a friendly “Hello!” What would you like?”

Like the market, they don’t mind people taking a peek. Each white paper pouch is bulging with beautiful blooms in various combinations of florals, foliage,

and filler accents making each as unique as the individual potential customer. Looking for something simple or just a few dollars? A la carte/by the stem flowers are also great. They will happily place your flowers in a plastic bag with just a little water to take them home still fully hydrated and carefully wrapped in Kraft paper. It’s the exact same customer service and gracious greetings you’d expect, just a little different.

When asked how they’re doing, “It’s going well,” Cha Doua Lor’s Garden’s Angie Vang replied with a slight sigh. “It’s been difficult as the flowers are really coming into the field and we’ve been picking like crazy, but we often have nowhere to take them with the farmers’ markets closing and our regular buyers no longer buying flowers. We we have a cooler, but we can only store things for a very long time and the next crop we harvest also needs a cooler space,” she explained. “It’s been very difficult trying to find or going to different places trying to sell flowers.”

With Mother’s Day and graduations approaching, as well as other ceremonies being canceled or postponed, farmers rely on these events to sell their produce. Asked specifically about Mother’s Day and if they’re doing anything different, “We’re still figuring that out. We ask convenience stores and gas stations to see if they are willing to let us set up a tent so that we can sell our flowers. A few family members traveled by car so that we could offer contactless delivery. It’s just more time consuming and very difficult for us because we also have to be in the fields.

Since many Hmong producers are closely related family members, they work together through this ordeal and adapt as best they can. A community Facebook group encourages people to support businesses (mainly restaurants) in Chinatown-International and it was mentioned several times that flowers were offered alongside establishments open for take-out. Those who offer food delivery also offer flowers to accompany their meals.

Back at Pike Place Market, shops open for takeout, like Piroshky Piroshky Bakery, Indi Chocolate and a number of produce vendors, allow farmers to bring in their bouquets just to keep their spirits alive. A Drive-Thru Flower Festival — the first ever — is planned for May 9 when you can pick up flowers (pre-ordered by May 6) at three pop-up locations in Seattle and one in Renton.

A flower stand at a 76 gas station in Bothell, along Hwy 522 and NE 180th. (Photo by Rizaniño “Riz” Reyes)

In Kent, Clarita Santos of Santos Farms was wrapping bouquets as she took a moment to speak to the Northwest Asian Weekly about what their company was doing for Mother’s Day. They have a seasonal stand where customers can pick up bouquets fresh from their fields. Business appears to be business as usual and Santos has expressed no serious concerns except for a shortage of materials and supplies from their usual sources. Extended family members help by delivering a handful of bouquets to Constantino’s Produce, which is open for pickup from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily at Pike Place.

Washington State considers farmers essential and recently declared florists and garden centers essential in late April, as long as they follow safety guidelines. In the current climate of social distancing, quarantine, thousands of people falling ill, many people fighting for their lives, and those mourning the loss of loved ones, flowers have always been a universal gesture of sending good wishes, strengthening the senses to sort- distract themselves from the pain, grief and anxiety they might be enduring.

To support local flower farmers at Pike Place Market, visit pikeplacemarket.org/blog/help-support-pike-place-market-flower-farmers.

To support a GoFundMe campaign for Hmong and Mien flower farmers, go to charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/wa-hmong-farmers-relief-fund.

Tai Tung and Purple Dot restaurants will distribute flowers with takeout orders on Mother’s Day.

Rizaniño can be contacted at [email protected]

Terisa K. Carn