Run by an American, a Vietnamese garden market in Washington DC offers a variety of Vietnamese vegetables such as morning glory, luffa, okra leaves, and herbs. The Voice of Vietnam reports.

Seventy-year-old Jean starts his day in the early morning by tilling the land with a noisy old digging machine. Jean has been doing this for 30 years. He enriches the soil with soybean cuttings to prepare for sowing, and also does the selling if a customer comes.

This vegetable garden, which belongs to Jean and his wife, Ngo Thi Boc, who is of Vietnamese origin, is popular with the Vietnamese community of Washington DC and adjacent areas. In the US, a place is considered a market if there is even one seller or one convenience store. The garden market is the only place around where one can find Vietnamese vegetables like morning glory, giant elephant ear, Ceylon spinach, onion, cabbage, and different kinds of herbs.

If customers don’t want prepared vegetables, they can go to the garden to cut the vegetables themselves. Except for the herbs, all the produce is sold by weight.

The place is packed with customers all day long, and that’s why it is called a garden market.

Ania Sowinska of Virginia goes to this place at least once a week. She says: “I like it because it’s so close to my house. I like it because I can always ask questions and I get to try things that I don’t find in a regular grocery store. It’s great that I can pick my own stuff, I can get what I like and I get to try new things. They taste better I think because they are fresh. When they are ripe, they need to be picked and they don’t travel half way through the world.”

Jean and his wife share all the work. Jean does the tilling, sowing, and selling while Boc collects soybean cuttings and harvests. Jean is a man of few words and only talks when asked a question by his customers. No one even knows his full name. Boc says Jean never talks to anyone about their business because he is shy. He once hid himself when an American journalist came and asked about him.

Unlike her husband, Boc is very open. She says: “My father served in the French army. After Hanoi’s liberation in 1954, my family moved to the south when I was 7. My daily chore was to help my mother take care of my brothers and sisters and go to the market. When I grew up, I started to weave fabrics and then worked in a bleach company in Ho Chi Minh City. I studied English in the evening. In 1968, many Americans came to Vietnam and they wanted to employ local workers. I was employed as a receptionist at a hotel where there were many Americans.”

Boc never even thought of marrying a man, never mind an American. It was fate that brought Boc and Jean together. They married and had a daughter in Vietnam. In 1975, Boc followed her husband to the US before the liberation of southern Vietnam. In the beginning, Boc was simply a housewife but then she found a job in a garment factory, where her idea of growing vegetables began.

Boc says: “During the three years I worked at that factory, my Vietnamese co-workers advised me to grow vegetables because we have a big plot of land. They taught me how to grow vegetables. My husband also became interested and helped me on weekends. I cut vegetables in my garden, put them in sacks, and sold them to workers in the factory.”

When there were more customers, Boc quit her job to focus on the gardening. In 1980, the two bought a one-hectare plot which is now their garden market. Boc says there are many kinds of vegetables in the US, but they are dry and not sweet. Her secret is to compost grass to fertilise the vegetables.

“I’ve been growing vegetables for many years now. I wake up at 3AM and only rest at 11PM each day. My tiredness disappears when I see the vegetables grow and I feel happy when people like my products,” said Boc.

The couple now has three daughters who have all grown up and have their own lives. Whenever temperatures in Washington DC go down at the end of November, which is unfavorable for growing vegetables, Jean and Boc go to their home in Florida to avoid the cold. They only return in the early spring and begin to grow vegetables for the harvest in April.-VNA