By Rizaniño “Riz” Reyes
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
A familiar and festive sight to behold in Seattle’s Pike Place Market is sadly missing. The iconic flower stands that draw massive daily crowds at this time of year sit eerily empty. Where are the hundreds of buckets filled with tulips and daffodils? The white paper sleeves stuffed full of sumptuous blossoms? What about the people tending these stalls: the Hmong, Mien, and Filipino farmers? They’re around still working from dusk till dawn, but they’re all still trying to figure out what to do. For the 30-40 small flower farmers who rely on the Market as their sole means of income, many have had to be creative and more assertive to keep their businesses afloat so you may find them at unexpected locations outside of their farms.
White tents, propped up with familiar buckets of flowers being unloaded from a truck, can be found in different neighborhood convenience stores and even gas stations around Seattle and the Eastside. It’s easy to spot the vibrant colors and feel compelled to pull over. It’s nowhere near the energy of a public market, but still inspiring: buckets of fragrant daffodils and a cheerful array of different tulips make up the focal flowers for their extravagant bouquets. Family members of Xai Cha’s Farm, masked and wearing gloves, waved a friendly, “Hello! What would you like?”
Like the market, they don’t mind having people just have a look. Each white paper sleeve is bulging in beautiful blossoms in various combinations of flowers, foliage,
and filler accents making each one as unique as the individual potential customer. Looking for something simple or only have a few dollars? Flowers a la carte/by the stem is also fine. They’ll gladly place your flowers in a plastic bag with just a little water to get them home still fully hydrated and carefully wrapped in Kraft paper. It’s exactly the same customer service and gracious greetings one would expect, it’s just a little different.
When asked how they’re coping, “It’s been going alright,” said Angie Vang of Cha Doua Lor’s Garden with a gentle sigh. “It’s been challenging as flowers are really coming on in the field and we’ve been picking like crazy, but then we often don’t have anywhere to take them with farmers markets being closed and our regular buyers no longer buying flowers. We have a cooler, but can only hold things for so long and the next crop we harvest needs the cooler space as well,” she explained. “It’s been really hard trying to find or get to different places to try and sell flowers.”
With Mother’s Day coming up and graduations, along with other ceremonies, being cancelled or postponed, the farmers rely on such events to sell their products. When asked specifically about Mother’s Day and if they’re doing anything different, “We are still figuring it out. We ask convenience stores and gas stations to see if they’re willing to let us put up a tent so we can sell our flowers. A few family members have been driving around so we can offer no-contact delivery. It’s just more time consuming and really hard on us because we have to be out in the fields as well.”
With many of the Hmong growers being closely related family members, they are working together during this whole ordeal and adapting as best as they can. A community Facebook group encourages people to support businesses (primarily restaurants) in the Chinatown-International District and there have been several mentions of flowers being offered alongside establishments open for carry-out. Those offering delivery of food are also offering flowers to accompany their meals.
Back at Pike Place Market, open shops for takeout, like Piroshky Piroshky Bakery, Indi Chocolate, and a number of produce vendors, are allowing farmers to bring in their bouquets just to keep the spirit alive. A Drive-Thru Flower Festival—the first ever—is scheduled 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.
In Kent, Clarita Santos of Santos Farms was wrapping bouquets as she took a moment to talk to the Northwest Asian Weekly about what their business is doing for Mother’s Day. They have a seasonal farmstand where customers can come and pick up freshly cut bouquets from their fields. Business seems to be running as usual and Santos expressed no serious concerns, except for a shortage of materials and supplies from their usual sources. Extended family members help out by delivering a handful of bouquets to Constantino’s Produce, who are open for pick-up from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily at Pike Place.
The state of Washington considers farmers as essential and recently declared flower shops and garden centers as essential in late April, as long as they follow safety guidelines. In the current climate of social distancing, quarantine, the thousands of people falling ill, many fighting for their lives, and those grieving the loss of loved ones, flowers have always been a universal gesture of sending well wishes, heightening the senses to sort-of distract oneself from the pain, sorrow, and anxiety they might be enduring.
To support the 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 give out flowers with to-go orders on Mother’s Day.
Rizaniño can be reached at email@example.com.