Sandra Mejia’s green thumb was born out of her Salvadoran parents’ backyard. Surrounded by the vibrant greens and pinks of their plant oasis, Mejia fell in love with plants from a young age. However, it was not until the birth of her son Alem that she realized how desperately she needed them back in her own life – this led to the growth of her plant business The Plant Chica.
Working 12-hour days as a medical assistant at the University of California, Los Angeles with an infant at home took a toll on Mejia. She felt like something was missing.
“My son is probably the reason The Plant Chica was born,” she said. “I was working really, really long hours, and I just felt like I wasn’t living. I’m like this can’t be the way you’re supposed to live your life. I’m missing out on all those little moments with my son.”
Mejia started gardening as a hobby in 2017 but eventually quit her job two years later to work on The Plant Chica full time, redirecting her energy back into what made her truly happy. The Etsy shop and now brick-and-mortar storefront has a mission to serve the South Los Angeles community, where Mejia was born and raised. With programming that boosts community engagement, Mejia said she strives to serve the community around her and build a new network of plant lovers.
When Mejia started her shop, she operated out of her parents’ driveway because she did not have room in her one bedroom apartment with her family of three.
“We completely took over their whole space,” she said. “So their garage was also like our shipping station. And they were just such a big part of our business.”
The Plant Chica initially launched as an Etsy shop with little knowledge of how the logistics of shipping plants would work. After trial and error, Mejia and her family realized that there was a large market for plant sales, especially novel ones that could only be found in warmer climates. Most of her online clientele includes customers who might not otherwise have access to these exotic plants.
Mejia’s mission from a young age has always been to help and serve others. Growing up in a family of pastors, she has had a history of missionary work. After leaving the medical care profession, she knew if she started her own business that she would want to use it to give back to the community that raised her.
“I knew I wanted land in this neighborhood [South L.A.]. I grew up in this neighborhood, and we never really had anything like this growing up here,” Mejia said. “Greenhouses are mostly in the richer neighborhoods.”
In order to make home plants even more accessible to her community, The Plant Chica offers “Adopt-a-Plant” events about once a month. At each time slot, The Plant Chica gives away roughly 1,500 plants to community members in South L.A.
“At our ‘Adopt-a-Plant’ events, we give away free plants to anybody that doesn’t have one or doesn’t have access to a disposable income to greenify their space,” Mejia’s husband and coworker Bantalem Adis said.
Adopt-a-Plant draws large crowds every month and even repeat customers. Dominique Lloyd said she has come at least three times and brought friends back to spread the word.
As a Black woman from South L.A., Lloyd said it is inspiring to have BIPOC and female-owned businesses in her own backyard.
“It’s amazing to have a minority plant company in your own neighborhood,” she said. “I hope they continue to thrive and have more locations.”
Another customer named Todd Covington said that seeing familiar faces at each of The Plant Chica’s events made him want to come back time and time again.
“I always see new people who are willing to help them develop more events,” he said. “So, it’s always good knowing that you have a core amount of people who are always gonna show up, and they’re always gonna make sure you appreciate the community and pour back into it.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic while people were stuck in their homes, plant sales grew tremendously. After successes in online sales during lockdown, the Plant Chica’s brick-and-mortar storefront opened its gates in March 2021. Over the past year Mejia has sold her plants online and in-store and has also offered a range of community events. In the month of April alone, The Plant Chica hosted Easter Egg Hunts, 4/20 festivities, and a special”Adopt-a-Plant” for Earth Day to name a few.
The Plant Chica’s events always come back to the business’ roots: Mejia and her family. One of the nursery’s April events was an adult Easter egg hunt, which was truly a family affair. At the event, Adis played music in the DJ booth, Mejia’s sister and coworker entertained Alem, and The Plant Chica herself mingled with customers. Community members relaxed on outdoor couches, grabbed refreshments from coolers, and browsed the plant nursery.
Mejia advocates for representation in an industry that has historically only been available to more affluent neighborhoods. Her community engagement aims to expose the South L.A. neighborhood to the “magic of plants,” she said.
Her primary inspiration, her son Alem, drives her mission to show that with hard work anyone can build their own empire.
“For our son it’s so important because to him it’s just so normal to be a business owner,” she said. “I think that exposure is so important, not just for our son, but for other kids who look like my husband and I. It’s absolutely possible to own a business in the neighborhood you’re from.”