Seattle, Wa.—Scott Chang grew up among the tulips and irises at Pike Place Market. The 30-year-old Seattle native remembers taking naps in one of the flower stalls as a toddler while his mother sold their bunches.
Chang’s parents were among the first Hmong refugees from Laos to start selling the market’s famous bouquets in the late 1980s. Now roughly 40 percent of the dozens of flower vendors at the market are Hmong.
Many are now second-generation Hmong refugees, like Chang. He still helps his mom pick the flowers every evening at their farm outside Seattle and then arranges bouquets the next morning to sell at the market.
“As long as I can remember, I was always on the farm or here,” says Chang, arranging tulips at his family’s market stall early in the morning.
Since the early 1980s, King County has been home to a growing number of Indochinese farmers, mostly Hmong and Mien refugees from Northern Laos. In 2013, there were an estimated 1,721 Laotians living in Seattle, according to Census data—about 2 percent of the population.
Chang’s parents began farming in 1986 with other refugees through a land co-op called the Indochinese Farm Project. The 18-acre parcel of land, owned by King County, sits along the Sammamish River, south of Seattle. The project was funded in part by King County and the Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority as a way to allow Hmong refugees to be self sufficient.
Many of these farmers have made enough money over the years to send their kids to college, says Emily Crawford, marketing and public relations manager for the market. But others, like Chang, can’t imagine leaving the family business.
“If everybody stops after this generation, then it would be sad to see the whole Hmong community disappear from the market,” says Chang. “I don’t think it’s going to happen. There are enough of us who do want to continue on, even though it’s hard work.”