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How to help Hmong flower farmers in Western Washington

With fewer markets and fewer shoppers, the Hmong farmers behind the iconic flower bouquets are hurting - but thanks to a woman in Lake City, there's a way to help.

SEATTLE — On a beautiful sunny day in August, the flower fields of Chao Chang Gardens are bursting with color. The vibrant blooms are what make up many of the bouquets that entice farmers market goers around King County.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year, the markets are much quieter... and emptier. Unfortunately, this has taken a huge toll on the flower farmers, many of which are Hmong.

Vang Lee is married to a Hmong farmer and says revenue is down 60% as compared to last year. An estimated 80-90 farming families are struggling to sell the flowers they work so hard to grow. 

He added, "95% of the farmers who are down in Pike Place [Market] selling these beautiful flowers are Hmong. Not many people in Seattle know that."

Friendly Vang-Johnson isn't a farmer and freely admits to knowing little about flowers. But she is Hmong -- and was quick to step up to help when she saw that her community was in need.

Credit: KING 5
Friendly Vang-Johnson and her group of volunteers sells bouquets around Seattle, with all the money going back to Hmong farmers.

The Hmong Association of Washington called out for volunteers to buy several bouquets to sell to their friends and family. Friendly didn't think twice to raise her hand. 

"And then, hundreds upon hundreds of people were emailing me texting me messaging me about a pickup, [saying] 'Okay I'll take two bouquets.'"

Within a few months, the front yard of her Lake City home has effectively become a farm stand, just a short drive away from the city. 

The concept is simple: farmers bring flowers & produce to her house, neighbors stop by to peruse the bouquets, and volunteers arrive to take them to different neighborhoods where buyers can pick them up on specific days.

Every single penny made goes directly back to farmers like Vang Lee.

Credit: KING 5
Friendly sells bouquets from her home in Lake City, while also working with volunteers to sell them in other neighborhoods.

While Friendly isn't fluent in Hmong, and some farmers aren't fluent in English, they make it work. She estimates they've sold close to $400,000 worth of bouquets.

"It's been a wild ride."

The bouquets that don't get purchased? They're donated.

"Thousands and thousands of dollars worth of flowers, but we've given to Children's Hospital, UW Medical Center, Harborview."

As breathtaking as it is, flower farming is hard work -- and not many people recognize the hard work that goes into creating thousands and thousands of bouquets a year to bring bursts of color into people's homes.

Friendly hopes her own hard work can help the people that bring us this joy.

"We're all part of a community and I want to make sure that they stay afloat. Because, you know, it would be a real shame, if this part of Seattle disappeared," Friendly explained. "That's what we're doing. We're trying to spread the love, as best we can."

You can place a bouquet order by filling out this form

Get in touch with Friendly: friendly@friendlyhmongflowers.com

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