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Enterprising lady operates a model farm

Mary Ann Wu is a livewire of a woman who operates a five-hectare farm in Southern Luzon and a garden supplies store in Quezon City. She spends long hours in her farm, Evergreen Tropical Plants in Sto. Tomas, Batangas, doing a lot of hands-on farming that she loves to do.

Her farm, a 5-hectare part of a bigger still undeveloped property, is very well organized. There, she grows a lot of ornamental plants, high-value crops and some livestock and poultry.

In a way, the financial crisis in 1997 was some sort of a blessing in disguise. It was instrumental in giving birth to Mary Ann Wu’s farm in Sto. Tomas which is starting to become a farm tour destination. In fact, the AANI farm tour will visit the place this Sunday, October 23.

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  • FARM TOUR DESTINATION – Mary Ann Wu (left) and Jocelyn Mahipus pose with a fruitful papaya at the Evergreen Tropical Plants being operated by Ms.Wu which is starting to become a farm tour destination in Sto. Tomas, Batangas. Jocelyn Mahipus is the coordinator of the AANI Farm Tour which will visit the farm on Sunday, October 23. Those interested to join the trip may contact Jocelyn at 0917-242-9785 or visit the AANI at the Quezon Memorial Circle in Quezon City. Mary Ann has combined horticultural crops, high-value crops and livestock and poultry in her farm.
  • MARY ANN WU is a hard-working, enterprising lady who is a farmer at heart. She comes from a farming family in Negros Occidental where she learned to harvest rice and corn at eight years old. She is now married to a businessman who has been very supportive of her farming and in running her plant shop and garden supplies store in Quezon City.
  • INDIAN BLACK PEPPER – This is the Paniyur black pepper that Mary Ann Wu grows in her farm in Sto. Tomas, Batangas which is starting to become a farm tour destination. Black pepper is a high-value crop that offers several advantages. It can be made to attach its vines on live trees like mahogany. The pepper corn has a long shelf life.
  • JAPANESE CUCUMBER – One of the high-value crops that Mary An Wu grows is the Japanese cucumber. The plant will bear fruits in just about 35 days after planting. The fruits are saleable and command a high price. Photo shows the plants grown under netted greenhouse.
  • NATIVE PIGS – Mary Ann Wu also grows native pigs which convert into meat the unmarketable vegetable scraps and other forage crops like the Super Napier. Aside from native pigs, she also raises turkeys, goats and a cow. Her major crops, however, are her ornamental plants and high-value vegetables. The farm animals are more of a hobby and not for commercial purposes for the moment.
  • CASH CROP – Upland kangkong and other leafy greens are among the cash crops that Mary Ann Wu grows commercially in her farm in Sto. Tomas, Batangas. They are grown with a lot of organic fertilizers. What’s great about upland kangkong is that it is harvestable in just over 20 days from planting the seeds.
  • ORNAMENTAL PLANTS – The bulk of production at the farm of Mary Ann Wu consists of a wide variety of high-value ornamental plants. These include colorful bromeliads in photo as well as foliage plants like philodendrons, spathiphyllum, Zamioculcas, different fern varieties and many more. She sells them together with gardening supplies in her Ever Rich Agri Supply Store at the Quezon Memorial Circle in Quezon City.

What’s the connection with the financial crisis? Well, Mary Ann is married to a Taiwanese businessman who is in the electrical wire business. In 1995, the couple bought a 2.8-hectare property where they intended to put up a factory for electrical wires. The plan did not push through because of the financial crisis.

Because of her love for farming, Mary Ann thought of planting sweet corn and pechay. It turned out, however, that growing the two crops was a losing proposition. For instance, she remembers that a buyer wanted to buy her sweet corn for P7,500. Mary Ann just shrugged off the offer saying that she spent about P15,000 to grow the sweet corn and here comes a buyer offering P7,500. No way. Instead of selling her harvest of sweet corn, she just gave them away to friends.

Then in 2003 she read in our column about a seminar on orchid growing at the University of the Philippines which she attended. She thought orchids were more profitable to grow than sweet corn so she started developing their Sto. Tomas property for growing orchids, first as a hobby. That was in 2004.

After some time, she found growing foliage ornamentals more to her liking so she concentrated in producing them as a business. Then she added the salad greens and high-value crops that she grows with a lot of organic fertilizers.

She created two divisions as a management strategy. One division concentrates in producing ornamental plants and flowers headed by Eloisa Agudong. The other division takes care of producing the vegetables and organic inputs headed by Nick Lising. In all, they have 20 workers.

The growing areas are well organized. Greenhouses, both netted and roofed, are built on three hectares. The netted greenhouses are where most of the foliage plants as well as high-value vegetables are produced. Inside the roofed greenhouses, Mary Ann grows her aglaonemas and ferns. The foliage plants under the netted greenhouses include foliage and flowering anthuriums, spathiphyllum Sensation, philodendrons and others.

The high-value vegetables are grown in half a hectare of netted greenhouses. These include different varieties of lettuce like romaine and Green Ice, kangkong, spinach, kale, arugula, Japanese cucumber and cherry tomatoes.

By the way, Marry Ann, nee Castillo, from Cauayan, Negros Occidental, will tell you that she comes from a very poor farm family. At the tender age of eight, she was already helping in harvesting rice in her grandfather’s farm. She would pick a parcel of ripening grains and convince her lolo that she does the harvesting so she could bring home the harvest for her poor family’s rice supply.

She speaks very good English but she will tell you that she only finished high school. Her parents could not afford to send her to high school but she was determined to get an education even if it is only up to high school. She convinced her grandmother to help her enroll in high school. And to help herself earn money for her school expenses, she used to gather camote tops and other vegetables which she sold in the market.

It happened that in 1989, a friend of her husband from Taiwan was looking for a worker to hire. And she was recommended for the opportunity to go to Taiwan. By a twist of fate, the prospective Taiwanese employer decided not to proceed with the plan to hire Mary Ann.

So as not to disappoint Mary Ann, her future husband, Yung Yao Wu, who had a thriving business of distributing electrical wires hired her to work in his office with two special tasks. One was taking care of the extension of his immigration documents. The other was as English tutor. Every day, for four years, she would buy a copy of Manila Bulletin and summarized in her own English the stories in the newspaper. That was how she developed her proficiency in English.

The Taiwanese businessman fell in love with the farm girl from Negros and they got married. Now they have two children.