By Zac B. Sarian

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 on her farm, Evergreen Tropical Plants in Sto. Tomas, Batangas, doing a lot of the hands-on farming that she loves.

Mary Ann and her husband Yung Yao Wu from Taiwan.

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

In a way, the financial crisis in 1997 was sort of a blessing in disguise. It was instrumental in the birth of Mary Ann Wu’s farm in Sto. Tomas, which is starting to become a farm tour destination. In fact, the AANI (Agri Aqua Network Inc.) farm tour visited it recently.

What’s the connection between the founding of the farm and 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, and she attended this. 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 on 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 on producing ornamental plants and flowers, and is headed by Eloisa Agudong. The other division takes care of producing the vegetables and organic inputs, and is 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, and philodendrons. 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 did the harvesting so she could bring home the harvest for her poor family’s rice supply.

Mary Ann Wu holding her papaya at the Agrilink 2016.

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 was only up to high school. She convinced her grandmother to help her enroll in high school. And so that she could 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. In 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, and assigned her two special tasks. One was taking care of the extension of his immigration documents. The other was as an English tutor. Every day, for four years, she would buy a copy of Manila Bulletin and summarize, in 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.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s December 2016 issue.