BUCKEYE — Goats bleat, chickens roam and blue-green peacocks strut in Jing Lv’s backyard as she walks in the vegetable garden that gives her a taste of home.
She checks on her asparagus lettuce, Chinese luffa, garlic bolt and red spinach, all from her native country, China. Lv has lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years, but her garden connects her to her former home and to fellow Chinese-Americans.
Lv belongs to a group of Chinese-American gardeners in the Phoenix metro area that started more than a year ago with 10 members and has grown to 400 people who share tips, exchange seeds and join one another at parties prepared from the food the gardeners grow.
Jing Lv started growing vegetables eight years ago to take better care of her health.
“I went to an organic store. I found the vegetables were so expensive, so I started to grow my own,” Lv said.
Once she started, she never stopped. Now her backyard has chickens, ducks, peacocks, fish, rabbits, goats, sheep and a garden with more than 60 varieties of American and Chinese vegetables.
It’s been two years since she’s had to buy vegetables. Lv said her own vegetables taste better and are healthier.
“Like a tomato, if you buy it from store, it tastes like a rubber, no flavor. It doesn’t taste sweet, it doesn’t taste sour,” Lv said. “ But if you grow your own, they don’t look great, but they have more flavor.”
The Chinese vegetables of her childhood and early adulthood are among her favorites, including jujube.
“It’s Chinese dates,” Lv said. “I feel like my childhood is coming back. It tastes like my mom’s flavor, my grandma’s flavor.”
Other members of the group, whose name means Phoenix Happy Farm when translated from Chinese, said they were happy when Lv started the group in November. It also is online, through the Wechat platform.
Some of those who joined were new to gardening.
“I learned a lot in the group. I know what time and what season is best for vegetables. Before I knew nothing, totally nothing,” said Guoping Wu, who has lived in the U.S. for 12 years and now grows more than 10 kinds of vegetables in his yard.
The members exchange seeds, talk about new technology for growing vegetables and sometimes share recipes.
It also connects Chinese-Americans into a friendly community.
Lv sometimes holds Chinese food parties in her backyard, leading newfound friends on a tour of the garden and teaching them how to grow vegetables. Some buy vegetables and eggs to take home.
“I made a lot of friends since I started growing vegetables,” Lv said.
And the flavors from their gardens offer tastes of their heritage.
“I feel like I come back home when I eat my own Chinese vegetables,” Wu said.
Jing Zu, a Chandler business owner who has been in the U.S for a decade, agrees.
“I cut chives from my backyard and make dumplings,” Zu said. “It just feels like I am eating food in my hometown.”
Lv said her garden and community of gardeners has brought meaning and value.
“The garden changed my life,” Lv said. “I am happy everyday; a lot of happy that you can’t use money to buy it.”