By JAMES TABABA
Jeck Iyas and Ma. Regina Patungan are owners of Hiyas Urban Mushroom Farm in Rizal. Both of them have backgrounds unrelated to agriculture; their transition from seafaring and freelance writing to cultivating mushrooms exemplifies the power of the pursuit of passion. Today, they stand proud as urban mushroom farmers, making a name for themselves in the world of agriculture.
From hobby to agribusiness
Jeck Iyas, a former seaman, and Ma. Regina Patungan, a freelance academic writer, found themselves drawn to the business of mushroom farming. Jeck’s early interest was sparked from watching informative videos about mushroom cultivation as early as 2020. Eager to expand his knowledge, he attended training sessions conducted by seasoned mushroom growers and the Bureau of Plant Industry. Encouraged by his growing expertise, he began growing 300 fruiting bags of mushrooms for personal consumption.
As Jeck’s mushroom cultivation gained attention from their neighbors, he introduced the world of mushroom farming to Regina. Recognizing the great potential of this agribusiness venture, they made a joint decision to turn their hobby into a full-time business during the early part of 2022.
Building knowledge and skills
Embracing their newfound passion, Jeck and Regina dedicated themselves to acquiring the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed in mushroom farming. They attended training sessions and seminars together on mushroom cultivation, taking advantage of face-to-face opportunities that emerged as the pandemic situation improved. During one of these seminars, they discovered the Young Farmers Challenge (YFC) Program, a competitive grant offered by the Department of Agriculture. Encouraged by their fellow trainee, they decided to take a chance and join the competition.
Personal choice and business venture
Jeck and Regina made the bold choice to resign from their previous jobs, fully dedicating themselves to their agribusiness venture. Their leap of faith paid off when they emerged as one of the top 7 Regional awardees for Region IV-A Calabarzon in the YFC Program. The cash grant they received became the start-up capital for their small mushroom farm, the Hiyas Urban Mushroom Farm, in Rizal.
Cultivating oyster mushrooms
At Hiyas Urban Mushroom Farm, Jeck and Regina primarily cultivate oyster mushrooms. They employ low-cost manual techniques in their farming practices, including bagging the substrates using a bagging machine and pasteurizing the fruiting bags in improvised drums. Their attention to detail is evident in their meticulous handling and storage of mushrooms, ensuring that they are of the highest quality when reaching the market.
“In terms of farming techniques, we make sure that we know the sources of our substrates, especially for sawdust. This is because the substrate is a critical factor for the growth of oyster mushrooms,” Regina shares. “We are also very keen on the handling of mushrooms, from harvest to storage. We make sure that they are properly cleaned and stored in the fridge to preserve their freshness,” Jeck added. Their dedication to maintaining quality sets them apart in the industry.
Pride in farming
Jeck and Regina take immense pride in their journey as urban farmers. Coming from different professional backgrounds, they found a new sense of purpose and fulfillment in agriculture. “Farming was certainly not in our career paths,” Jeck said, “but when we saw the potential of mushroom farming and the chance to turn it into an agribusiness, we knew we had found our calling.” Their decision to embrace farming as a profession reflects their unwavering commitment and belief in the power of sustainable food production.
Fulfillment in inspiring others
For Jeck, the joy of being a mushroom farmer comes from witnessing a bountiful harvest. “Seeing those beautiful flushes of fruiting bodies wipes away all the hard work and physical stresses during production,” he explains. But their fulfillment extends beyond their own success. Jeck and Regina find great joy in inspiring others, especially the youth, to engage in urban farming. By sharing their knowledge and experiences, they hope to ignite a passion for sustainable agriculture and contribute to a greener future.
As with any farming endeavor, Jeck and Regina have faced their fair share of challenges. One significant hurdle they encountered was the unpredictable market demand. There were times when they had large harvests but struggled to find buyers, resulting in a quantity of spoiled mushrooms. Conversely, they also experienced periods with high demand but were unable to meet it due to limited production capacity.
To overcome these obstacles, they turned to innovation. Jeck and Regina started developing a range of processed mushroom products, including mushroom sisig, mushroom shanghai, mushroom tocino, mushroom polvoron and more. These product innovations not only saved them from spoilage but also expanded their offerings, attracting new customers and increasing their market presence.
A vision for growth
Looking ahead, Jeck and Regina have ambitious plans for their farm. Their vision includes expanding their production and processing capabilities. They aim to acquire a larger growing house, allowing them to scale up their operations and meet the growing demand for their products. Additionally, they intend to establish a processing facility dedicated to their mushroom products, enabling them to accommodate larger orders and diversify their product line.
Impacting the community
Through their passion for farming, Jeck and Regina have made a positive impact on their community. They actively engage and support the younger generation by involving them in various aspects of mushroom farming and product processing. By inspiring the youth to embrace urban farming, they are nurturing a new generation of sustainable agriculturists.
Their farm’s mission extends beyond their immediate surroundings. They aim to promote the health benefits of mushrooms and urban farming in their community and contribute to the larger goal of achieving food security in the nation. Jeck and Regina firmly believe that every step they take towards sustainable agriculture contributes to a brighter and more resilient future.
Advice for aspiring farmers
Reflecting on their journey, Jeck and Regina have valuable advice for aspiring farmers and the wider public. “Do not be afraid to take risks,” Jeck said. Their own experience of joining the Young Farmers Challenge Program without extensive business plans or financial projections attests to the power of taking chances. He further adds, “Farming, like any other business, is not all positive. There will be challenges and frustrations along the way. Stay composed and grounded.”
Regina emphasizes the importance of gratitude. “Being spiritually healthy is crucial in facing challenges and making calculated decisions,” she shared. Expressing gratitude for both blessings and challenges keeps one grounded and motivated to grow personally and professionally.
Through their commitment to cultivating high-quality oyster mushrooms and innovative product development, Jeck and Regina have not only built a thriving business but also inspired others to explore the possibilities of urban farming. Their impact extends beyond their community as they contribute to the larger goal of achieving food security in the nation.
In the words of Jeck, “Farming teaches us the value of respecting our farmers and the food that we produce because every harvest comes from the blood and sweat of people who are working hard to provide these foods to the community.”
Jeck and Regina embody this spirit of hard work, dedication, and respect, making them true movers of sustainable agriculture and an inspiration to farmers and aspiring farmers alike.
Photo courtesy of Hiyas Urban Mushroom Farm