Growing, Processing Mushrooms for Health and Economic Reasons
It may be odd, but that was how Jack Nagano of Barangay Mallorca in San Leonardo, Nueva Ecija started to become a mushroom, producer and processor. It started in 1996 when he was craving for mushroom which he, unfortunately, was not able to buy since he could not find someone selling some in his town.
Knowing that his favorite food has many health benefits, he was bothered why there was hardly one interested in cultivating and marketing mushrooms. Then he thought asking his neighbors – where he could buy mushroom spawns for he was already planning to grow mushrooms for himself.
Unfortunately, his neighbors also didn’t know where he could buy some and what he had after years of searching for mushroom spawns, instead, was an invitation from an agriculture technician in their municipal agriculture office to participate in a three-day seminar on mushroom production.
Jack offered his place to become the venue of the seminar which was held in September 2001. Unfortunately, he didn’t learn much from the seminar which only consisted of lectures and some demonstration. “The seminar was half-baked” and what were taught to them were difficult to do, he recalls.
In search for the right technology, his son Francis attended a one-week training on mushroom production in July 2003 at the Technology and Livelihood Resource Center (TLRC) in Makati. And this time, Jack was lucky for his son not only learned the technology they needed, he was also one of the trainees who successfully produced uncontaminated mushroom spawns.
Francis’ success prompted Jack and his wife, Belen, to buy materials for mushroom cultivation a month later. Jack also constructed an isolation chamber, converted their guest room into a laboratory, and prepared a pasteurization area and a small grow mg area at the backyard of their house in Congressional,Village in Quezon City.
NOT AS EASY AS IT SEEMS
In September 2003, Francis started producing mushroom spawns. The first spawns he produced, however, were all contaminated and their venture was put on hold for 10 years because Jack, who is also a road construction contractor, was so busy dealing with his construction projects.
The Naganos then realized that growing mushrooms is not a piece of cake afterall. But the family did not give up even if it took Francis 60 trials before he came, up with a good and uncontaminated spawn.
Thereafter, Francis experimented on the mixture of the medium for the fruiting bags and how he could make these produce mushrooms. But in the course of his experiment, he realized that what he learned from the TLRC was not enough, and so in October 2003, he attended another seminar at the Bureau of Plant Industry in Malate, Manila, and another seminar in November at the Mushroom Center of the Central Luzon State University in the Science City of Munoz, Nueva Ecija.
That was the seminar where he really learned how to cultivate mushrooms. Thanks to Professor Evaristo Abella and Dr. Rene Reyes, dean of the CLSU College of Arts and Sciences and former director of the Mushroom Center, respectively, because after the training, Francis became proficient in producing mushrooms. In fact, “his mushrooms were bigger than those produced by the students at the Mushroom Center,” Dr. Reyes said.
The family then decided to move their production from Quezon City to Barangay Mallorca in Nueva Ecija in January 2004 to expand it. And with the help and guidance of Dr. Reyes and Prof. Abella, they constructed their first .mushroom house with a floor area of 300 square meters, cooling room, inoculation room, incubation room, and growing area for 12,000 fruiting bags. Their spawns are brought there a day before planting because Francis who is producing mushroom spawns decided to still reside in their house at Quezon City with his family.
ANGEL MUSHROOM FOR A START
In January to February 2004, they were raising 250 fruiting bags a week using Angel mushroom (Pleurotus florida), and had a survival rate of 80 percent. But why Angel mushroom?
First of all, it is a tropical species and, hence, can be grown under the warm temperature in Nueva Ecija. It is also marketable because among Filipinos, it is the most popular species along with Shiitake and Button mushrooms, which are semi-temperate species and only grow in cold places, Francis explained.
The initial stage of their business was only for experiment. And by March 2004, they were able to expand- their production to 1,000 fruiting bags a week. However, “introducing Angel mushroom in Nueva Ecija [back then] was quite difficult because the locals preferred kabuteng dayami (Volvariella volvacea) because it was the only edible mushroom that they knew,” Francis recalls.
This was why they gave some of the fruiting bodies of Angel mushroom for free to their neighbors and relatives who were afraid to eat it. And to prove that Angel mushroom is edible, Belen began to concoct some recipes like mushroom burger, kare-kare, goto, soup, tempura, and sisig which became very popular in San Leonardo.
Jack said that Angel mushroom, which he sells at P150 per kilo and a bottle of its spawns at P70, has health benefits. The health of his cousin, Francisco Pestano who was undergoing dialysis, has improved and his bowel movement has also become regular after he started eating angel mushrooms regularly.
Aside from Angel mushroom, Jack and his family has also tried culturing kabuteng dayami, abalone which is known to grow only in cool areas, and Pleurotus sajor cajo, but they have not yet gone into commercial production of this species.
“I was able to make good spawns of these species because I followed the procedure I used in making Angel mushroom spawns,” Francis said. He also said he is so thankful that Dr. Reyes gave him a culture of abalone species which his students found growing in Llanera, Nueva Ecija which is definitely a warm place.
LUCKY TO HAVE GANODERMA
Francis became more lucky in December 2004 when Dr. Reyes gave him a pure culture of Ganoderma lucidum which he bought from Japan and taught him how to produce it. “He entrusted it to me and wanted me to produce more cultures,” he added.
Ganoderma is known as ling zhi in China, reishi in Japan, and youngchi in Korea is a small fungus that grows on decaying logs and tree stumps. It is believed to be the oldest mushroom that Chinese used 4,000 years ago as a medicine to treat liver disorders, hypertension, arthritis, and other ailments.
According to studies, it contains antiallergenic, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, anti-viral, antiparasitic, anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, cardiovascular, kidney, nerve tonic, and sexual potentiator properties.
It also provides energy and vigor, lessens fatigue, increases brain power, strengthens organs for waste elimination and detoxification, strengthens the natural healing ability of the body and immune system , inhibits platelet aggregation, and lowers blood sugar.
After growing a number of pure culture, the Nagano family started to plant Ganoderma in fruiting bags, and right now, they are getting good and very healthy yields.
Jack said that their production of Ganoderma is still limited-they harvested 11 kg lately-and to increase its yield, they are constructing a concrete structure with a 600-square meter floor area which would be used for Ganoderma production. He estimates that it will house no less than 30,000 fruiting bags, making them the only commercial producer of Ganoderma in the country.
This is why they plan to produce Ganoderma coffee, tea, and toothpaste, which the Philippines still imports at a very high price until today. Presently, the family is already producing Ganoderma chips which cost P500 per 100gram pack; this price was based on the prevailing price of US$100 per kilo in Binondo, Manila.
And as the family looks forward to much larger production of chips, Francis and his siblings are designing a package to make their product attractive and competitive.