HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN SELLING AT THE FARMERS' MARKET? I've been doing this a very long time - nine or 10 years. I came to the U.S. in 1982. When I came to the States I went to California, but I ended up in Madison in '85 because I had relatives here. I worked for many years as a cook at a Chinese restaurant, the Happy Wok, out by East Towne. While I was doing that I started renting a garden plot to grow food for my family. I gardened for years before I started selling at the market. You need to know a lot about raising crops before you're ready to go into business. I really like gardening, and it's good exercise. I do pretty well. My stand is always busy, so my daughter usually helps out.
DO YOU STILL GARDEN FOR YOUR FAMILY? Yes, my kids all work in the plot when they can, and we're proud to eat what we grow. I'm a super cook, and there's nothing like fresh, home-grown vegetables. My specialty always changes, depending on what's available. I've been cooking a lot with sugar snap peas; they're very sweet this week. I like them steamed, or they're delicious stir-fried with pork or beef. I think my very favorite vegetable is green beans, though. They're just starting to come in now.
WHAT'S YOUR BIGGEST SELLER? I grow things my customers like that I don't use myself, like rhubarb. And people buy a lot of flowers. I have sweet William, daisies and small sunflowers right now. I'll have zinnias and cosmos soon - those are very popular - and in late summer I get those great big sunflowers that everyone likes so much.
Everyone loves my spinach. I was selling out earlier this season, but all the rain we got last month didn't help. The garden flooded, and spinach can't take too much water. I didn't have any a few weeks ago, but that's not so bad - I had sugar snaps and flowers. A lot of my friends got completely flooded out and had nothing to sell in June. My garden is up high - I've got spinach coming in again.
YOU DON'T USE ANY PESTICIDES, RIGHT? Right - I've never used them. Vegetables grown with pesticides look big and beautiful, but produce tastes better without them, and it's much better for your health. I don't care about bugs. Usually they only eat the mustard greens and kohlrabi, and they wash off. It's easy to remove any bad leaves from the greens, and sometimes I have to throw a kohlrabi away. But I wash everything very well. When you buy from me you get clean, fresh-picked produce that I keep fresh in coolers till I put it out on the market tables.
WHAT DO YOU DO IN WINTER? Once the garden's done for the year I look for winter work. I find jobs at vegetable canning plants; usually it's a different one every year.