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Cambodian refugee, Kimli Sieng, utilizes P-Patch community garden to grow herbs that remind her of home

Kimli Sieng, Hoa Mai Gardens

What is your ethnicity and how long have you been in the U.S.

I am from Cambodia, and I am a refugee. I was in five refugee camps including refugee camp Khao I Dang, one in Thailand, and another in the Philippines. I stayed in the camps for five years. I came here in 1987. When I first came to the U.S., I was in Salem, Oregon, but I had friends in Seattle, so I moved here in 1992.

How long have you/your family been gardening at your P-Patch?

I have only been gardening here this year, but I was at [Yesler Terrace P-Patch] for a long, long time, then I moved out to another garden, then I moved here (Ho Mai Gardens). I think I started in 1995. I don’t remember exactly; it was a long time ago!

What is your favorite vegetable/plant to grow that connects you to your family heritage?

I don’t have a favorite plant, I just plant what I eat! Like mint, chives, lettuce, Asian parsley, watercress, lemongrass. I cut the lemongrass then put them in water and grow them in my house. Also, Thai basil. I buy it from Chinatown, then I eat the leaves and keep the stem and plant them here. This here [pointing to plant] looks like taro, but it’s not taro; it doesn’t have roots like potato. You cut the stem and cook it. In Vietnam, they make salad; we make sour soup, or you can fry it. You grow only one time, then you just put compost on it and you keep getting more babies! Then I share the leaves and the seeds. Today I brought cilantro seed and mustard greens to plant. In Vietnam they use these greens to make a pancake called bahn xeo.  

Kimli spreads cilantro seeds at her plot in Ho Mai Gardens

How does growing food help you maintain a connection to your heritage?

When I finished school, I moved to Phnom Penh so I was in the city. But my family on my father’s side grows food. They live in the countryside in Kompong Thom. They have rice fields and plant fruit all around the house.