Moua’s Farm Grows Organic Vegetables with Deep Roots
Brie Mazurek, CUESA Staff
February 2, 2018
At Moua’s Farm stand, you’ll find organic cabbage buds, purple yams, and sunchokes, all carefully grown by Ge Moua, the newest member of the Thursday Ferry Plaza Farmers Market community.
“If I grow anything, I want to be the first to taste it and eat it, so I can tell my customers, ‘Hey, this is my product, this is how I cook it, and this is how it tastes,” she says with passion and pride. “I’ll be able to tell them the story.”
The child of subsistence farmers, Ge farms organically because she can’t imagine doing it any other way. “We grow everything organically because I don’t believe plants need any extra help. As long as we take good care of them, nature should take of itself.”
From Laos to SoCal
Raised in a small village in the mountains of Laos, Ge learned to farm from her parents, who grew rice, corn, beans, potatoes, and cabbages to feed her family. During the Vietnam War, Ge’s father was recruited as part of the C.I.A.’s “Secret War” in Laos. Along with thousands of Laotian refugees, her family fled to Thailand after the war, where they stayed in a refugee camp until immigrating to the U.S. in 1981.
Living in Santa Ana was her family’s introduction to city life. Everything was new, especially the food. “All of your life you’ve never been exposed to Western food, so you feel awkward. You don’t know what to eat,” says Ge. “When I first saw parsley, it was smelly. I didn’t know what it was or how to cook it. The only thing I recognized was cabbage.”
Her family settled into a house with a small backyard and began to grow cucumbers, onions, cilantro, and squash using seeds they had brought with them. “The garden was a place where, even though we were far away in another world, we were also so close to home,” she recalls.
As Ge grew up and started a family of her own, gardening remained a constant that connected her to the earth, her family roots, and her children. “I wanted my kids to get close to nature, like I was growing up, so that they know this is how things are. That’s what I could give them.”
Backyard Vegetable Farmer
One day her kids came home from school with chocolate bars to sell for a fundraiser, which gave Ge an idea. “I realized that we had so many vegetables that I should look for a farmers market,” she says. “So I told my kids, ‘Let’s go and make some money!’”
With the extra income they brought home selling their backyard vegetables, Ge could take her kids out to dinner or the movies, and even afford a trip to Disneyland. As her side business grew and her kids got older, she decided to quit her job as a paralegal and take the leap to full-time farmer.
In 2005, her family moved to Sacramento to seek land, which proved difficult at the height of the real estate bubble. In a few years, she he discovered California FarmLink, who put her in touch with a landowner who had four acres of land to lease. From there, her dream grew.
Today, Ge leases 17 acres, with a goal of purchasing her own property, so she can make deeper investments in the farm. Last year, FarmLink connected her with Kitchen Table Advisors, a program that offers business consulting for sustainable farmers, to grow her sales through farmers markets and strategize for the long term.
Growing a Family Business
Paying close attention to her customers’ cultural and culinary tastes helps guide Ge’s farming decisions. Depending on the season, you might find mustard greens, lettuces, cucumbers, rhubarb, Napa cabbage, Chinese broccoli, bok choy, daikon, taro, lemongrass, or water spinach among the many vegetables, herbs, and flowers at her market stand.
“Different parts of Asia eat taro differently,” she says. “Filipino people like to eat the leaves. Vietnamese like to eat the stalk. Thai like to eat the root. So you have to know your people.”
Ge also sells cut flowers, which she first planted for her daughter, who loves butterflies. The blooms not only beautify the farm, but they also attract birds, bees, and other beneficial insects to help with pollination and pest control.
Today, Ge’s seven kids (ranging from age 19 to 28) keep close ties to the farm. During the week they go to work or school, and on the weekends they pitch in picking and selling produce at farmers markets. Ge’s husband helps with the markets and tractor work, but for the most part, Moua Farm is Ge’s labor of love.
Knowing intimately the hard work and patience it takes to run a farm, Ge doesn’t expect her children to follow in her footsteps, but she takes heart knowing that they’ll carry the beauty and lessons of the farm with them throughout their lives.
“All the farming skills will transfer into whatever career or wherever they go,” she says. “I tell them, ‘Whatever you want to do, go after it. Pursue and be the best you can be. If you do your best and you can’t succeed, at least you can have fruit and vegetables on your table.”
Find Moua’s Farm at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Thursdays (10 am to 2 pm).
This article is a part of an ongoing series highlighting CUESA farmers and ranchers mentored by Kitchen Table Advisors. Together, CUESA and Kitchen Table Advisors are supporting the economic viability of the next generation of sustainable small farms by offering critical market and promotion opportunities and in-depth business and financial advising. You can read more articles about businesses supported by CUESA and Kitchen Table Advisors here.