Mushrooms: Roses for A Spirited Benguet Gent

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Dreaming of raising mushrooms for food?

Can’t blame you. For mushrooms, indeed are the food of the gods.

Dreaming of raising mushrooms for profit?

Can’t blame you either.  For mushrooms at Baguio’s Vegetable Section sell at Php 200 to over Php 300 per kilo depending on the variety, oyster, shitake and button mushrooms, mostly.

Dreaming of raising mushrooms for nutrition’s sake?

Ah Kong tells for the third time, can’t really blame you, none.

For the Food Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) had proven that both “wild (edible) and cultivated mushrooms are good sources of vitamin B, C and D, including niacin, riboflavin, thiamine, folate and various minerals including potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron and copper.”

“They provide carbohydrates but are low in fat and fibre and contain no starch. Mushrooms are excellent source of high quality protein – between 19 to 35% – and in addition to the essential amino acid it gives, have medicinal benefits of certain polysaccharides known to boost human immune system,” FAO revealed in an agri-science document.

So it was that Shawnie Dhale Balting Bitso, 23, from Sitio Begis, Badioan, Tuba Poblacion, after having yodeled some “yondering days,” or what’s usually known as “pagkabulakbol,” like what young men do, got dead serious last January and decided to do something that will give a good account of himself.

While schooled in Information Technology, environmentalism happened to be injected in his blood early in his teens and he fondly recalled of those happy times he went with classmates and other mentors in re-greening efforts, planting trees in their immediate environs.

Was the clarion call of Mother Nature strong to resist and start an endeavor where humans and nature co-exist peacefully. Shawnie couldn’t really tell when Ah Kong interviewed him last Tuesday in his home in Begis.

One time of that January, while watching his parents try their hand in mushroom growing, it suddenly dawned on him there was no need for him to go for a promising career in IT and join the corporate world.

For the answer to his dreams lay staring before him: Mother Nature had the answer – those innocent sawdust and fungi.

Shawnie decided to forego a promising career in IT for a fascination with fungi and sawdust.

“My parents were very encouraging, very supportive,” Shawnie said of his desire from veering away from an IT career to harnessing his energy in growing mushrooms.

Ah got introduced that Tuesday to Shawnie’s parents, and like other parents, are the underpinning of children’s hopes as they cast their nets across waters to catch their own fish.

What started as   a fascination for sawdust and that sensitive mushroom has turned into a passionate endeavor   that keeps Shawnie busy day long and his reward is the sweet tinkle of cash trickling into his pockets.  His mushroom-spirit is fierce.

For fickle indeed are mushrooms like women, or compared by Shawnie to the needs of a baby, for one needs to be really attentive to their needs.

However, once he got the hang of the job, the chore in raising mushrooms become easy, just like a mother nursing her baby.

In essence, it’s the ability to harness science to effectively grow temperamental mushrooms which are exacting in their requirements   and beats chancing it to Mother Nature.

At his home, where he calls it Sanagi mushroom farm, Shawnie showed and explained the rudiments in preparation of the so-called mushroom fruiting bags that eventually will bear mushrooms.

After combining the ingredients lime, sugar, rice bran with sawdust, he piles it into a heap, moisten it, covering it for a number of days and turning it 2-3 days for 15-21 days.

Then he places the heaped material in   6×12 inches polypropylene plastic bags weighed at one kilo each. Mouths of the plastic bags are sealed with cotton with a cut pvc pipe securing it in place.

Shawnie then sterilizes the plastic bags in a water drums placed atop a slow burning fire for 8 hours then allowed to cool for 24 hours.

He then inoculates each bag with grain spawn and keep it in an incubation area for about 30-45 days.

In about a month the white fungus or mycelium will creep through the plastic bag. He then transfers the plastic bags in a fruiting area or room having a temperature not more than 28 degrees centigrade and    off-limit entry to anyone to deter contamination.

Shawnie provides moisture to the mushroom fruiting bags by water-spraying its surroundings daily, three times a day.

In a matter of days, mushrooms will sprout from the neck of the fruiting bag, piercing through the cotton.

Shawnie produces white and pink oyster mushrooms and sells fruiting bags at 75 pesos per bag. However, he said, reduced price can be arranged if prospective buyers will purchase by bulk order.

Mushrooms, unlike other crops, maybe grown in any locality in which the proper conditions of temperature and humidity are provided. This may necessitate artificial heating or refrigeration in which mushroom cultivation is contemplated, Shawnie said.

Of course, in growing mushroom, the geographical location has a bearing, in that the proper temperature must be maintained and the municipality of Tuba has the right temperature.

Over the time that Shawnie started   selling mushrooms, he realized that he placed so much of himself in the mushroom growing process only to realize that mushroom product is sometimes determined not by what price he wants to trade his gods but by others who would sell their mushrooms at a lower cost.

But then and apparently, that’s the reality of market trading. The big bonus, however for Shawnie and other mushroom growers, is that compared with other vegetable products, mushrooms command a high price which is steady, exceeding the 100 pesos range per kilo.

If you see a mushroom grower, go and have a hat with him/her. Why? They are passionate about what they are doing; there’s a lot of sweat, love and frustrations that go into producing mushrooms.

Economic-wise, mushroom cultivation can help reduce vulnerability to poverty as it ensures a livelihood endeavor yielding a source of nutritious food as well as good source of income.

Since it does not require access to land, mushroom cultivation is a viable and attractive activity for both rural farmers and peri-urban or city outskirts dwellers like Shawnie who resides outside Baguio’s   periphery.

After the fruiting bags have been spent, Shawnie said they use it for fertilizer, showing, that indirectly, mushroom cultivation also provides opportunities for improving the sustainability of small farming systems in Tuba through the recycling of organic matter, which can be used as a growing substrate, then returned to the land as fertilizer.

Through the provision of income and improved nutrition, cultivation and trade in mushrooms can strengthen livelihood assets, which can not only reduce vulnerability but enhances a person’s and a community’s capacity to act upon other economic opportunities.

Mushroom cultivation can directly improve livelihoods, through economic, nutritional and medicinal contributions. Shawnie and his family are proving these.

Oyster mushroom production is a god choice for inexperienced cultivators because they are easier to grow than many other species, Shawnie explained.

In addition, such cultivators can become an integral part of a sustainable agriculture system utilizing organic waste, can be grown small-scale with moderate initial investment.

They have highlighted the many opportunities to, and benefits of, increasing food security through incorporating mushroom into livelihood strategies. – Bony A. Bengwayan