Seattle City Series

The Hmong Flower Farmers of Seattle

June 8, 2015, 11:40 a.m.

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.”

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