converting from overhead to drip irrigation to conserve water.
Plant trays also allow water to be reused.
Air blast or turbine sprayers that atomize pesticides into fine
droplets allowed him to reduce chemical use by 80 percent. South
Florida is often an entry point for new pests into the U.S., so he
scouts for pests, which also reduces chemical use.
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew destroyed his shade houses. He
hoisted up the frames, welded and repaired the structures,
installed new shade cloth, and was one of the first nurseries back
in business. That experience served him well in 2005, when he
quickly recovered from Hurricane Wilma.
When Wilson entered the foliage business, he sold most of his
plants to regional chain stores and garden centers. In the 1990s,
“Our marketing strategy was adaptable,” says Wilson. “We
went to a mix of what we call interior plants and patio plants,
concentrating on exotic and unique plants.” To offset the decline
in sales, he developed new markets in the Caribbean, and certified
his clients with the Export-Import Bank.
DIVERSE CUSTOMER BASE
Today, his customer base is as diverse as his product line. He sells
to garden centers in the southeastern U.S. and Canada, to theme
parks near Orlando, and to resorts in the U.S. and the Caribbean.
With his company’s reputation for quality control, his is one of few
firms allowed to export to certain Caribbean islands.
“We do marketing research to get an idea of the types of plants
in demand,” says Wilson. He’s focusing now on using social media
to reach members of the millennial generation and deliver plants
Growing up in Jamaica, he never dreamed he would end up in
the U.S. During the 1970s, political instability in Jamaica prompted
his parents to send him to Canada for his last year of high school.
It was there he saw his first snow. After earning college degrees,
including a Master of Business Administration, he was offered a
lucrative job as a senior financial analyst with a major corporation.
But he had doubts about whether he wanted to work for big
A relative had a nursery in Homestead, Fla., so Wilson checked
out the industry and used savings from previous jobs to buy a
five-acre nursery. Sweat equity helped him pay off the mortgage.
He put up his first shade house, and mixed and poured cement by
He has since brought his brothers, Steve and Peter, into the
business. Steve is production manager, and Peter is in charge of
sales and marketing.
AGRICULTURAL REAL ESTATE
Mark also served on an advisory board of a local bank that was
purchased by another bank. As part of his work in the banking
industry, he took on consulting assignments, which evolved into
recommending real estate sales.
So, he became a licensed real estate agent, and now specializes
in sales of agricultural property for the commercial division of the
local Keller Williams real estate office.
Wilson is active in Boy Scouts of America, Dade County Farm
Bureau, and Dade County Public School Advisory Committee.
He has served in the Dade Chapter of the Florida Foliage
Association, been an advisor and supporter for Miami-Dade
County Cooperative Extension, served on a South Dade economic
development commission, and on the Community Development
Agency of Naranja, Fla.
He has supported the Feed the Children charity, served as an
usher at Christ Fellowship Church, and is a founding governing
board member for Agro Tech Academy charter school.
At the state level, he has been a director of Florida Farm Bureau,
served on the Governor’s Commission for a Sustainable South
Florida and chaired the state committee for USDA’s Farm Service
His wife, Susan, works as a nurse. Mark says Susan played an
important role by raising their three sons, Christopher, David, and
Matthew. Her nursing career has allowed her to use her talents
and skills to volunteer within the community.
Their older sons, Christopher and David, are working on
doctorate degrees at the University of Florida, and do research in
high performance and reconfigurable computing. Matthew has
been active in Boy Scouts and recently earned the rank of Eagle
“Farming is one of America’s best kept secrets,” Wilson says.
“We wouldn’t have the life we do without American farmers.
Agriculture has been good to me. I escaped the corporate rat
race and ended up as a contented farmer, with my own nursery
Jason Davison, director of the Field Services Division of Florida
Farm Bureau, coordinates the Farmer of the Year award in the
state. Wilson was nominated for the honor by Eva Webb, Florida
Farm Bureau field representative.
Webb says she admires Wilson for his intelligence and
determination, for how he started and expanded his successful
nursery business, and for how he encouraged Dade County Farm
Bureau to become more involved in Florida Farm Bureau activities.
“He has always been willing to lend a helping hand,” says Webb,
“especially if people need plants for special community projects.”
Wilson was nominated for the honor by Eva Webb.