Fruits and vegetables on display to purchase at farmers market

Humans of CLI: Xee and Her Perpetual State of Spring

Fruits and vegetables on display to purchase at farmers market
Source: PhotoMIX Company from Pexels

In the spring and summer months, small-scale farmers grace us with their goods and treasures, often grown with loving hands. They are able to do so mostly through local farmers’ markets. In the U.S. alone, there are over 8,600 farmers’ markets registered in the USDA Farmers Market Directory.

This is the case for market vendor Early Mom — a mom-and-pop garden located on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. 

“We call it ‘the garden,’ so when you hear that coming from my family, it means Mom and Dad are at the farm,” states Xee Moua. Xee’s mom and dad own Early Mom, and have been growing and selling vegetables, flowers, berries, and mushrooms at Portland-area farmers’ markets for over a decade.

It’s utterly delightful. Here’s Xee.   

What do you do at CLI?

I am a customer service representative (CSR). I take calls, but right now I mainly help the senior CSRs with pre-scheduling. I also sit at the front desk, so if we have people come in, I’ll greet them, or if there are packages, I’ll let people know.

Do you like spring?

I do, but I have allergies during that time, so my allergies tend to kick in, and then my face gets itchy. I would say my favorite is autumn. But I do like spring because it’s really nice outside and sunny, but it’s not yet too hot. There’s a breeze going on, there are clouds, there’s shade… . . . it gets your mood going. It puts me in a happier space. 

What’s your favorite flower?

I don’t really have a favorite flower. My parents do the famer’s market, so we have our own produce, or my parents do, so I’ve been around flowers my whole life. My parents grow their own dahlias, they have their own tulips, and there are a few that I don’t really know, but being around dahlias, I’ve grown to really like them because there are so many and so many different kinds. They’re really pretty. We actually just put in dahlia bulbs two weekends ago. 

Do you help your parents plant their garden?

Yes, I’ve been doing it since I was 11 or 12 or maybe even a little younger. I would say, maybe, 6th grade I started helping out more. We would go to the garden a lot. I have a lot of respect for farmers because they put a lot of work into it, so when you go to the market, you’re thinking, it’s kind of expensive for a box of strawberries, but the labor is hard. They put their back and sweat into it. It’s an all-day process. 

Do they grow anything else besides flowers?

They do, but my parents have cut down. We do sugar snap peas, snow peas, and zucchinis, but it varies. We used to grow bok choy. Tying those was the worst! They also used to pick huckleberries, chanterelle mushrooms, and morels. It was a lot of work growing up.

My mom is really popular with her customers for her flowers. They’re like squash-top flowers. The yellow ones. I don’t know the right name for them, but they look like pumpkins. They’re yellow in the middle and their vines grow white flowers. People put them in their tacos. 

My mom knows her people and she has a high demand. People will wait. The market won’t let them sell until the bell rings, that’s when the market starts, and people will actually wait in line for my mom, and she’ll sell pretty quick to her regular customers.

Did you go to the farmer’s market when you were younger?

Xee’s mom and dad showing off a beautiful bouquet of flowers at a farmers market in Beaverton, Oregon.

I went to the farmer’s market and the garden. When summer hit, I would go to the garden early with my mom because my dad was at work. My dad would work in the morning, my mom in the evenings. I would go to the garden with my mom, and then we would come back home around 2 p.m. She would get ready for work and leave at 4 p.m. My dad would come home from work around that time and rest, and then we’d go back to the garden and wouldn’t come home until 8 or 9 p.m. 

We’re Hmong, but my parents emigrated from Laos. My parents are really hard workers. As long as I can remember, they were always working hard. So at a young age, I also learned how to cook because, you know, your parents would be tired so you’d help cook. My parents are retired now, but they’ve been doing the garden for so long, and they have customers that come see them every season and every Saturday.

What’s a gardening tip you would give someone?

If you are very serious about it, it’s a lot of work, so if you want to garden, you have to be 100% about it. You can’t half-ass it, because once it dies, it dies. But the outcome is very rewarding. I’ll go to my parents’ garden and say, “I planted that row! I planted that with my own bare hands.”

Do you have a favorite spring memory?

During the spring and helping my parents, I would say the best memories I have are hanging out with my little brother and cousins. My aunt had a garden next to my parents, so my cousins would go over there, too, so it was a good time. We were always playing and getting in trouble. Like we would lock each other in the van and one time we broke the hose and water kept running. We always had each other’s back, though!

Do you speak any languages?

It’s pretty broken, but I can understand and speak a little Hmong, and the same goes for Lao, I can understand and speak a little bit of it. My dad speaks Hmong and Lao. My boyfriend speaks Lao, and whenever my boyfriend and I will go visit my parents, my dad just sits there and talks in Lao to my boyfriend.