After 30 years, a farmer now owns three gardens and provides jobs amid crisis, part 1

Featured image from Dafalongs Farm Garden.

by Vina Medenilla

There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing the fruit of your hard work, especially after long years of failing and learning.

Mary Ann Cogollo, 57, faced a lot of hurdles before she successfully developed her flower farm that has multiplied into three separate sites. Out of a love for plants and flowers, Cogollo established a farm and named it Dafalongs Flower Farm. The name “Dafalongs” was coined by her priest friends and means “dapa ilong” or flat nose in Hiligaynon.

After 30 years of hard work, a former teacher now lives her dream to build a farm that employs others, including wives and mothers like her.

From being an educator, she now runs her three gardens full time. Cogollo took a rest from teaching due to an ectopic pregnancy and used the time to develop the property that her parents gave her.

“They were actually worried if we will stay at this place because at that time, it’s just the house and cogon grasses all over. No electric current, no water source, and few motorbikes are passing by our area,” said the farmer. When Cogollo saw the lot, she knew that there could be more to it than just cogon grass. “From the moment I saw the place, I remembered I smiled; there’s an instant connection,” she added.

Her late parents were both farmers. At 12, she helped in the farm and worked as a ‘kabo,’ a person who helps people in the sugarcane and rice fields. Her mother used to collect orchids as well, which is what influenced her love for plants, particularly for flowers.

One of the varieties of water lilies that can be found on the farm.

In the beginning, she planted veggies and fruit-bearing trees, but she eventually filled the garden with flowers. “I plowed the place with the help of Rudy, a farmworker who’s raising our carabaos. From there, I started planting ‘tam-is’ (a variety of yam), gabi, and kamote. My husband used to fetch water 220 meters away from our house every day in the late afternoon,” said Cogollo.

A dream venture   

15 years ago, she had to expand her garden due to the growing number of propagated plants at home, so she established Dafalongs Flower Farm with the primary goal to provide a livelihood to mothers and wives in the community.

When asked what it was like when she was starting, she answered that it was tough because aside from limited resources, it was not an ideal location for a business; her gardens are distant from the city and national roads. The inaccessibility made her doubt the capabilities of the gardens.

There are days when there was no income from them, but the farmer didn’t stop and continued propagating. She attended flower shows and established good rapport with other gardeners who eventually bought plants from her. She also used her skills to style for events like fiestas, graduations, and weddings in their municipality.

An aerial view of one of the sites of Dafalongs Flower Farm located in Iloilo. The three farms measure 3.5 hectares in total.

Cogollo got the motivation to try landscaping as well after she attended a landscaping class together with her friends in Iloilo. Now, she doesn’t need to worry if the plants are not sold because she can use them for her landscaping projects. The income during the early days of the garden was P5000 per week, which eventually increased through the support of other gardeners and farmers from different regions.

A flower enthusiast

Some of her first flowers were orchids, roses, petunias, and hydrangeas. Cogollo used to ask for orchids from her mother so she had something to put in her garden and fast forward to now, she’s the one giving and selling flowers and plants to others as her garden blossoms with thousands of them.

A blooming Fraser Island Creeper (Tecomanthe hillii).

Cogollo loves growing Neoregelia bromeliads on her farm as these are not difficult to grow and thrive well in indirect light or moderate shade. According to her, sunlight helps in enhancing their colors. Most of her Neoregelia bromeliads are for her personal collection, but she also sells some to fellow collectors and enthusiasts. Its price range from P500 to P20,000 depending on the variety and size.

They mainly grow bromeliads in the flower farm as these are easy to cultivate and thrive well in tropical weather.

They also offer landscaping services, which is why they grow plants aside from selling them individually. Cogollo said, “I’m more into tropical plants that can thrive here in Iloilo weather.” Some of them are palm trees such as washingtonia palm (Washingtonia robusta) and foxtails palm (wodyetia), Philodendrons, Norfolk Island pine, (Araucaria heterophylla), and many more.

They also have few endemic and rare plants like jade vine (Strongylodon Macrobotrys), scarlet jade vine (Mucuna bennettii), Fraser Island creeper (Tecomanthe hillii), Philodendron Caramel Marble, rare species of Neoregelias bromeliads, Mapu Paradise palm (Licuala mattanensis Mapu), lotus (Nelumbo nucifera), and Monstera – Thai Constellation.

A rare Philodendron Caramel Marble.

To date, Cogollo mainly grows flowers on her farm, but she hasn’t forgotten the importance of growing fresh vegetables. “My husband is a vegetarian. He can cook delicious food from vegetables. We have our food garden and my husband also started another vegetable garden in our Flower Farm for our staff where they can pick and cook fresh greens every day,” she said. They grow corn, lemongrass, batuan or batwan fruits (a souring ingredient used by Ilonggos), chilies, saluyot, kangkong, malabar spinach, squash, eggplants, okra, pigeon peas, jackfruit, basil, tarragons, dill, assorted beans, and more.

In managing the three gardens, Cogollo works hand in hand with her workers in planting, propagating, and for the overall maintenance of the gardens. Her husband and son manage their sugar cane, corn, and rice fields, while her eldest daughter helps in managing the flower farm and is assigned in marketing and overseeing their farm staff.

Cogollo and her husband work together in improving and facilitating their farms.

An extended farm-ily 

Along with those 30 years of gardening are loyal farmers who have become a family for Cogollo. Many of them are from the family who have worked for her parents. There are a total of 26 people in the flower farm and most of them are wives of the farmhands who work in the family’s sugar cane and rice fields.

It is one of their objectives to provide employment for their workers so they can send their kids to school. Cogollo and her husband encourage them to let their children attend school so they can finish education and get their dream jobs. They also motivate and reward some children whenever they excel in class. Some children even visit the couple to show off their medals and awards. She said, “I’m proud of my staff, some of their children already have bachelor’s degrees and some are already supervisors of restaurants.”

They arranged the plants in a way where customers will feel like they are strolling through a park. Clients will not just choose the plants they’ll get, but they will also feel relaxed while buying.

As per Cogollo, “It’s difficult to find the best team, but I thank God every night for the people who worked for us.” Her father taught her to treat the farmworkers with dignity, respect, and most importantly, with kindness. 

Their farmers kept their jobs and stood strong amid the community quarantine.

She added, “I value my team and the hard work they put in. We’d bask in the heat and storms together. We’d share meals whenever I’m around. They’re not just working for me. For our family, they are the Dafalongs.”

She expresses gratitude to her staff, most of whom are mothers like her. “Women who nurture, women who mother and protect. Yung essence na yun, nadadala sa gardening (the essence of being a mother is carried in gardening),” said the farmer.

In the next part, Mary Ann Cogollo shares how she overcomes the drawbacks in her farming journey. 

Photos from Dafalongs Flower Farm.

For more information, visit the Dafalongs Flower Farms.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s January to February 2021 issue. 

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Vina Medenilla
Vina Medenilla is a content producer for Agriculture Monthly magazine. She is a graduate from Miriam College with a bachelor’s degree in Communication. Fashion, photography, and travel are some of the things she loves. For her, connection with nature is essential to one’s life.

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