Something’s mushrooming, literally, in the rural town of San Enrique, Iloilo: a mushroom industry development project—an initiative by the Palabrica siblings, led by the mayor, retired General (PA) Ramona Palabrica-Go.

By Lorenzo P. Loraca

Joe Cape, husband of Palabrica-Go’s sister, Amy, manages the farm, which is co-financed by brother Greg Palabrica, who is based in the United States. The siblings, all retired or retiring from their careers, have decided collectively to give back to the town and their townmates in any way. They have registered their family enterprise as the San Enrique Agri-Venture (SEA) Enterprise.

The siblings chose mushroom farming because it is a healthy food touted to have medicinal value, and because they believe everybody who engages in the project can earn money. The project will also be the first of many they have envisioned for the town.

Their first investment was in the laboratory and growing building. The major concern in mushroom production is the availability of quality spawns. With a small laboratory, the project is assured of a regular supply of spawns. The growing area should also be cool, sanitized, and free from contaminants since mushrooms, especially the oyster species, are sensitive to their environment.

To perfect the technology, Cape went through a short course at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) and tapped the services of Bert Cablas, a teacher-entrepreneur based in San Miguel, Iloilo who had been successfully growing oyster mushrooms for more than 15 years and is the major supplier of supermarkets and hotels in Iloilo City. Cablas transferred his technology to them unselfishly.

Mayor Palabrica-Go holds a bottle of spawn which will be implanted in fruiting bags.

Producing Oyster Mushroom

Cape follows the standard technology for producing oyster mushroom spawns. The spawns are first cultured in a potato dextrose agar medium then transferred to a sorghum bed inside sterilized whiskey or rum bottles. Once the mycelium have grown and are ready for culture, they are seeded to fruiting bags of sterilized sawdust-based culture media and placed in growing chambers. In two to three weeks, the mushroom buttons start to form mycelia and emerge from the tiny holes cut all over the plastic fruiting bags.

In a few more days, the mushroom buttons emerge from the holes and start to grow. In three to four days, the mushrooms have fully grown and are ready to harvest. These are then completely pulled out of the holes they have grown in to prevent any residue from rotting and contaminating the rest of the fruiting bags.

The harvested oyster mushrooms are sorted, cleaned, and weighed. They are then sold priced according to packaging; 125 gram packs are sold at Php35 each while 250 gram packs are sold at Php65. Kilogram packs sell at Php250 ex farm.

At present, the farm produces 7-10 kilograms daily on about 7,000 fruiting bags. The building has a capacity of 20,000 bags and can produce between 20-25 kilograms daily. Cape is currently developing the local market for the fresh mushroom.

While the present harvest is not enough to fill the demand for mushrooms in the community, Cape is already exploring the market of Passi City which is about 4.5 kilometers away. Efforts are also being made to develop other forms of products so that all the produce of the farms and ultimately, those of the farmer-cooperators, will be regularly sold out and both the enterprise and the farmer cooperators can realize a stable income.

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In front of the mushroom house are Mayor Go with sister Amy, flanked by Executive Assistant
Chris Bacabac, Butch Panes, and mushroom project staff members.

Grow-Out and Reach-Out Scheme

Mayor Palabric-Go is keen on the project because of the high returns for industry participants. Right now, she is hard at work launching livelihood projects so that the constituents of her town who are landless but have a few square meters of space in their yards can avail themselves of the grow-out program, in which SEA will provide them with ready-to-grow fruiting bags at a low price while assuring them of a stable market in which prices for the produce are high. She sees the enterprise launched by her siblings as an anchor project for mushroom production.

Her sister Amy Palabrica-Cape said that the laboratory is easy to expand due to the availability of space, and its capacity can be increased to meet the demand for fruiting bags to be sold at cost to the unemployed, housewives, out-of-school youth, indigenous people, and other potential project participants.

“The municipality and other concerned agencies like the DSWD will work hand in hand to train these unemployed constituents and we will find a good financing scheme where they will also invest [some of their own money] so that there will be ‘ownership’ of the project; [this will also] ensure that they will not think this is a doleout and [will therefore] take good care of [their projects],” Mayor Palabrica-Go said.

Their consultant Cablas said that a small mushroom livelihood is ideal for the unemployed. If one targets a daily income of Php500, one needs to produce between 2-4 kilos of oyster mushroom daily. So that person needs about 200-250 fruiting bags, which can be accommodated in about 6 square meters of space.

Mushroom project staff
members with packed
mushrooms ready for the
market.

The housing structure conceived for the project will utilize roofing and walling materials like cogon and coconut leaves because they are naturally cool and serve as insulators against ambient heat. Coconut shingles are easy to make and cogon can be gathered from abandoned land, so farmers and other cooperators will not need to spend a lot on their project’s housing, which will be one of their counterpart contributions.

The exhausted fruiting bags are ideal as growing media for ornamentals and vegetables. The farmer-cooperators can have an additional livelihood project once the mushroom grow-out has started. They can plant vegetables and high value ornamentals either in plots or in pots. The organic media is nutrient-rich after it has been fully decomposed by the mushroom, which is a fungus. Fungi feed on cellulose contained in sawdust; this results in a rich organic medium for plants.

The Future of Mushroom in San Enrique

Mayor Palabrica-Go commented that for more than thirty years, their town seemed to be hibernating, “…and we now have the opportunity to make things right for our people.” Local farmers and entrepreneurs are focused on low value farming of rice, sugarcane, and corn. Coffee and cacao are small industries in San Enrique but they have the potential to expand. Since there are many sawmills in the town, a large amount of sawdust is available. Normally used only as landfill, the sawdust can become a resource for mushroom farmers.

“I am upbeat about making mushroom…one of our major products. While only a limited number of our people can grow rich [with] sugarcane and rice, mushroom is one industry that everybody can participate [in and grow in the process],” she added.

This appeared as “Mushroom Farming as an Anchor Project” in Agriculture Monthly’s January 2015 issue.