Finding Sweet Success in Watermelons
There is a famous line from an old commercial that goes, “Great things start from small beginnings” – the perfect description for farmer Helen Cullo’s journey to success.
Helen was once a small retailer, buying vegetables and watermelon and selling them in her hometown of Kalibo and other towns in the province of Aklan. Being just a high-school graduate did not stop Helen from achieving big things. She started farming on a 3-hectare land in Barangay Tagayon, where she and her husband grew chili, cucumber, and watermelon in 2002. She was 37 years old then. She and her husband only had one worker and no farming equipment and means of transportation to begin with. “We didn’t even have a motorcycle. We just rented vehicles,” she said.
Through the years, with her and her husband’s hard work and perseverance, Helen was able to send her five children to school. They all graduated and are now working. Helen and her family now have their own house and vehicle, and were able to establish other businesses. Helen, now 55, grows mostly Sweet 16 F1 and Sweet 18 F1 watermelons, other crops like Diosa F1 honeydew, Mestisa F1 and Galaxy F1 bitter gourds, Morena F1 and Fortuner F1 eggplants, Diamante Max F1 tomatoes and Suprema F1 pumpkins on her farm, which has been expanded to 60 hectares. She says she also grows rice during the rainy season. Currently, she is a regular supplier of fruits and vegetables to Boracay, a famous tourist spot in the province, and is one of the biggest distributors of watermelon on Panay Island, Negros Island, Cebu, and even as far as Luzon.
Helen’s journey to success was not all smooth sailing. One time she had to harvest her honeydew ahead of time due to a disease that caused the leaves to turn yellow and become brittle, and to exhibit brown spots. Typhoons also significantly cut down her potential income. “If the typhoon is strong, we really get wiped out,” she said. But Helen always pulls through, “We were able to get back up.”
Integral to Helen’s success is East-West Seed products. Early on into her farming, Helen chanced upon East-West Seed at a store and decided to try them out. She’s been growing them since. “The seeds I use are 100% from East-West,” she said. It’s the quality that made her stick to the brand after all these years. “When you plant them, 100% will grow. The yield from others is not like that of East-West,” she adds.
Now that Helen has expanded her farm, she currently employs 120 farm workers from Aklan and from the nearby province of Antique. She is very generous with her resources and knowledge—giving away seeds to her workers and teaching them how to grow crops the right way. It’s her way of giving back and sharing her success with the community.