Nguyen Thi Thu Hien has carved out a niche for herself with her own business growing and processing red artichoke flowers in the central province of Thua Thien-Hue while working to introduce the high-yield plant to fellow farmers.
Pinning her hopes on the potential of the red artichoke flowers, 25-year-old Hien has given her all to running a budding business growing and processing the variety, which was new to other farmers in her hometown in Thua Thien-Hue.
She has also come to replace the low-yield, care-consuming varieties that have been around for years with her red artichokes, in a bid to help improve local farmers’ incomes while providing jobs for dozens of others at her own farm and processing plant.
Gift turns into business idea
As a student of an economics university in Hue City, the provincial capital, during her trips back home Hien was saddened by the poor crops including peas and cassava roots that have long taken root among local farming households.
Keen to improve the situation, the undergraduate was on a constant lookout for a higher-yielding crop as an alternative.
The idea of starting her own venture on farming red artichoke flowers occurred to her around two years ago when her husband Le Van Chanh, who was then her boyfriend working as a tour guide, gifted her 15 red artichoke seeds following his trip to the north.
Hien sowed the seeds out of curiosity about how they might turn out and if the flowers would live up to their reputation with their dazzling looks and medicinal properties.
After three months, the young woman was delighted that the red artichokes were a natural fit for the local climate and soil and did not require much care.
The plants, which do not even require water or fertilizer, grew extravagant blooms. Unlike their counterparts grown in the northern locales, the flowers had brightly hued, elongated petals.
It was then that the idea of founding her own venture started to really take form. Hien and her family decided to germinate the plants in place of peas on a 500-square-meter area of their farm on a trial basis.
Two years on, her business has finally taken off, with a farming area spanning nearly four hectares, or 40,000 square meters. One hectare is dedicated to the sale of seedlings, while the remaining area is for the harvest of flowers.
“I give counseling to clients as well as selling my stuff online, besides in-person trading, to get them acquainted [with red artichokes] before being able to secure a foothold [in the market],” Hien revealed.
|Nguyen Thi Thu Hien selects red artichoke flowers at her processing facility Hichagol, based in Phong An Commune in Phong Dien District, located in Thua Thien-Hue Province in central Vietnam. Photo: Duc Tai / Tuoi Tre|
Apart from her own success, Hien also works to spread the seeds of red artichokes across her hometown.
She tries to talk local farmers into growing the plants by delivering seedlings and instructions on farming techniques to their doorstep while making guarantees to purchase their produce.
“It was easier said than done, as many farmers had never heard of the variety or were still not convinced of its productivity or outlets,” Hien recalled of the initial hurdles in expanding the locality’s red artichoke farming area.
Though Hien’s journey to get her own and other farmers’ business off the ground was not without its challenges, many are now more than thankful for her efforts.
Among them is 53-year-old Le Thi Theo, one of the first few farmers who decided to give it a shot as they were daunted by the low productivity of their usual crops.
“The plants thrive even on little care. We’re free from worry now that Hien has inked contracts to purchase our produce,” Theo said, adding her family has switched from usual crops to red artichokes on a 15,000-square-meter area of their farm.
Hien’s efforts finally paid off. The plant has been successfully grown in five of Phong Dien District’s communes on a total area of around 100,000 square meters.
|A variety of products made from red artichoke flowers at the facility run by Nguyen Thi Thu Hien in Phong An Commune in Phong Dien District, located in Thua Thien-Hue Province in central Vietnam. Photo: Duc Tai / Tuoi Tre|
As her farming business began to grow, Hien tapped into her abundant supply and opened a processing facility called Hichagol, churning out wine, sugar-preserved fruits, juices, and tea from red artichoke flowers.
With her items fetching VND250,000-VND500,000 (US$11-22) apiece, Hien now rakes in a monthly revenue of approximately VND45 million ($1,950).
In addition to being committed to safe, local ingredients and secure outlets, Hien is also determined to help working-class residents by offering them stable jobs.
Her farm and processing facility currently recruit 20 local farmers who earn VND250,000 a day and are frequented by lecturers and students from the University of Agriculture and Forestry, Hue University for fieldwork.
Local authorities are also appreciative of Hien’s work.
“The district plans to evaluate Hien’s farming model before growing the plant in place of usual crops in some areas,” said Trinh Duc Hung, chairman of Phong Dien District People’s Committee.