This past Mother’s Day, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) families and supporters raised funds for their schools and Hmong flower farming families. Seattle moms enjoyed locally grown floral bouquets expertly grown and handcrafted by Hmong farmers, who have been an iconic part of King County’s agriculture scene for over three decades.
Friendly Hmong Farms (FHF) organized the SPS Mother’s Day Weekend Fundraiser, brining together Hmong farmers and volunteer to sell over 400 bouquets. Over $10,000 in flower sales were made by local farmers and an additional $8000 was raised for the schools.
Friendly Vang-Johnson, FHF founder and community organizer, believes the organization and the annual fundraiser can do even more.
Vang-Johnson started volunteering in 2020 to support Seattle-area Hmong farmers who lost their markets due to the pandemic. In the first growing season, she and her network of 40+ volunteers helped farmers raise more than half million dollars in revenue. As she explains, “the goal was simply to keep farmers afloat. We went at it every weekend, thinking it would be our last, because surely this COVID thing was going to come to an end and the farmers wouldn’t need our help anymore.”
A Google form would be sent out to customers, neighborhood Facebook groups, friends and coworkers, allowing Seattleites to buy a bouquet or a veggie box. Despite having ‘farm’ in the name, FHF does not grow produce, but instead serves as a food and flower hub, broker, distributor advocate, and technical assistance provider for farmers.
Over the past three years the all-volunteer organization has grown to also support a youth program as well as a farmland trust led by and for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC): the Pacific Northwest BIPOC Farmland Trust.
At the center of all these programs is the next generation of BIPOC farmers in Washington. Vang-Johnson herself was raised in a Hmong farming family and knows personally the reasons why many children of farmers do not choose to stay in the profession. As she explained, children of underrepresented farmers want to feel secure in the potential of farming being a viable career.
Vang-Johnson points to significant systemic barriers that have disadvantaged BIPOC farmers, particularly around land ownership. She contributed to the recent report issued by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. The report discusses a myriad of exclusionary laws, policies, and practices ranging from discrimination, prejudice and bias, and violence that has kept land out of the hands of BIPOC farmers.
The emerging PNW BIPOC Farmland Trust, supported in part by Friendly Hmong Farms and other generous community donors, is one mechanism to counter the systemic racism that BIPOC farmers face. Another key aspect of the land trust is that it is co-created and lead by BIPOC farmers and food advocates. Having both community support and authority is critical for farmers of color whose labor has been routinely exploited by the food system.
As the land trust continues to develop, Vang-Johnson continues to grow FHF. As Vang-Johnson explains, “FHF is registered as an LLC, operates like a non-profit, but in truth is really mutual aid.” Her goal over the coming years is to build the capacity of FHF, not through seeking equity shareholders or pursuing an initial public offering but calling on and calling in community members.
Recently, Friendly Hmong Farms has been piloting food hub sourcing contracts with FamilyWorks Foodbank and with the City of Seattle to figure out how to design procurement such that more BIPOC farmers can participate and benefit from public dollars being expended for food distribution. Friendly Hmong Farms is also exploring alternative ownership or collaborative operating structures/models.
“What we’re doing is so wholly and radically different because it is grassroots, informed and led by the people most affected.”
If you would like to learn more or support Friendly Hmong Farms, visit friendlyhmongfarms.com or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org