Chelsea Wan’s official job title is frogologist at Jurong Frog Farm, the American bullfrog breeding farm which her family founded 36 years ago in 1981. Aged 33, the fab mother of a 22-month-old son (and another kid on the way) works alongside her folks and brother, overseeing the business development of the $1.2mil business, which produces frog meat for consumption as well as hashima, the oviducts of female frogs that are consumed as a tonic. The farm, which has moved from Jurong to Lim Chu Kang, houses some 150,000 frogs.
Your family has lived on the farm since its inception. Not many girls would be like you and appreciate growing up among frogs.
I’m quite ambivalent towards frogs. I had a pet frog, but I didn’t have any strong inclination to pet it or love it, ’cos I eat them all the time (laughs). It’s a staple diet for my family. We believe in the medicinal properties of frogs. Whenever anyone falls sick, we’d cook frog soup for them. The frogs are really loud, though life on the farm [in Lim Chu Kang] is very quiet. You can take the bus out from here for 15 minutes and not see a single person or car. When we first moved into the farm, my dad used to own a crocodile. But he had to give it away ’cos he needed to have a licence to keep it. When I was still in school, I really hated being on the farm and I didn’t want to be involved in it at all. The commute from the farm [to the urban areas] was so stressful for me (laughs).
What changed and made you join your family business?
I saw the potential of the product when I was doing research for it. I hold a degree in sociology from NUS ’cos I thought I could go into teaching. But I’ve always been interested in marketing, which my dad doesn’t have time to do. I find it fun to explore possibilities [for the business], like changing the packaging of the frog meat for supermarkets so that they are more appealing to customers. I like being able to grow frogs, from the mating process to adulthood — it makes me more patient. As a young person, I was aggressive and wanted to make things move faster. But I’ve learnt that it doesn’t work that way! I also networked with other young farmers and we are now very good friends. That network gave me confidence to give this business a good shot. There is so much you can do [for the family business] compared to working for other people. Here, I have the autonomy of running my own show, and I get to spend more time with my son.
Do you still live on the farm?
My family is expanding and we needed more space so I moved out last December with my husband and son to my parents’ flat in Bukit Panjang, which was previously occupied by a tenant.
Apparently you’re known as the Frog Princess.
It’s not easy to uphold this princess title (laughs). What I lead is far from a princess’ life. My job as a frogologist involves a lot of product and business development. I have to work with a designer on product packaging too. It’s not just paying someone to do the job, ’cos it’s your sweat and blood and you want to make sure you get the right message out.
What’s a typical workday like for you?
It’s more flexible for me now that I’m a mum, but previously it was always a full day kind of job. We start consolidating orders at 7am and dispatch them to drivers, and answer sales queries and handle tours. When we conduct tours, we inspect the farm to check that there are no dead frogs. We have a foreman who takes care of the husbandry. I also used to run our company’s accounts, but my brother is doing it now.
How would one make the farming industry appeal to the next generation?
If we ran our farm the way we did 10 years ago, I don’t think we’d attract any young people to work here. [Our young staff] want exposure; they want to meet different kinds of people. So meeting us is the first step, and they also get to meet customers, talk to them and sell them products. It’s not just throwing pellets to feed frogs and washing tanks. But when it comes to the daily grind, they just have to accept that the job is that. You have to do the basic things before you can start on the exciting things (laughs).