Gaosheng Cha is back home. After living in the Midwest for 20 years, she has returned to help her family run and expand their farming business – and to help people live healthier lives.
Gaosheng grew up on Fox Island in Puget Sound. Her parents, who had moved from Laos, taught her about growing things and love of the earth. “We always had a garden. All Hmong people have a garden,” she says. After Gaosheng left for college, her parents started a farming business.
While living thousands of miles away, Gaosheng came home routinely to visit and help her family. But she also started her own career as a medical interpreter for ethnic Hmong patients. And she thought she recognized a pattern: people seemed disconnected from what keeps them well, including the food they eat. “I saw all sorts of illnesses. It helped me understand the state of health for Americans right now, and the current status of chemicals in our lives, including in our soils and food.”
Now back in western Washington, Gaosheng has brought back a strong interest in the connection between people, family, food and the earth. Her interest runs in the family. “My father is a shaman, and his approach is ‘natural’,” she says. “To me, natural means stepping outside. It’s what you see, hear and feel. There’s beauty and peace in the nature around us.”
The family is turning their love of growing things into a thriving business. Their company, Gaia’s Natural Goods, grows nearly 100 different kinds of vegetables and 25 different herbs. They cook up products like pickled beets, giardiniera, fresh Asian tomato salsa and berry jams. And they grow many flowers. As Gaosheng observes, “Flowers make people happy.”
Gaosheng describes her parents as excited about every step of farming, from sowing the seed, to growing the seedlings by their house, to planting those young plants in the field, to ultimately bringing their harvest to their customers. Their approach is organic, and now Gaosheng is working to complete all the paperwork required to get their many crops certified as such.
Their family farm sells their produce at Pike Place Market in Seattle, where they also roast fresh corn and make organic veggie juice on-site. They get around to other markets and locations, too, including Amazon, Capitol Hill, Ballard, Wallingford, Madrona, Gig Harbor, Puyallup, Issaquah, and their own farm stand and "U-cut" dahlia farm in Snohomish.
There are many places to buy food, but Gaosheng thinks farmers markets offer something special. “I think people enjoy being in a farmers market setting. They can bring their family. They can get fresh food and meet the people who produce it. They can learn. People become connected, and everyone benefits. Our society needs more of that,” Gaosheng says.
"As farmers, we have a direct relationship with the Earth and we care about how we grow the food we bring to customers. But I think everyone is connected to the land, the waters, the animals and the forest. What we do to nature directly affects us. We drink the waters and eat food grown in the earth. That is why we should care."