By JAMES TABABA
Jefte Dangalan is the owner of Tessie Mushroom House in Pugo, La Union. Dangalan used to work as a quality control welding inspector in Saudi Arabia. His agribusiness story began with his return to the Philippines in 2017, prompted by his mother’s unfortunate stroke. As a single individual without a spouse, the responsibility of caring for his bedridden mother fell solely on his shoulders. Struggling to find a source of income and with depleted savings from his time abroad, he saw the necessity to start a business.
Learning About Mushroom Farming
Inspired by his sibling who was reselling mushroom chips, Dangalan discovered the untapped potential of mushroom farming, a field that was still in its promising stages at the time. Determined to learn how to produce mushrooms, he invested in starter kits and fruiting bags.
“Though I initially didn’t like it, I eventually developed a fondness for mushroom farming. It was different from my previous job, which had nothing to do with farming,” Dangalan said.
To further expand his understanding of mushroom production, Jefte sought guidance from nearby growers and actively participated in seminars and workshops. Seeing the potential of mushroom farming, Dangalan attended several training sessions and seminars, as well as classes in some agricultural schools to enhance his knowledge. His dedication enabled him to develop his own practices and protocols for cultivating mushrooms.
Dangalan identified a market gap and decided to venture into mushroom processing. “I combined farming with mushroom processing because I noticed that many of my acquaintances grew mushrooms but lacked buyers for their produce, he said. “This prompted me to cook mushroom chips, which allowed me to process and extend the shelf life of my abundant harvest for up to six months.”
The oyster mushroom
Dangalan currently cultivates oyster mushrooms, with plans to expand his product range to include Ganoderma mushrooms, the latter renowned for its medicinal benefits. However, he has yet to find a suitable market for the Ganoderma variety. He hopes to commercialize Ganoderma mushrooms by December.
According to Dangalan, oyster mushrooms, particularly the white variety, possess a substantial and meaty texture, making them an excellent meat substitute. They can also be processed into chips or used as a vegetable. Individuals following a vegan lifestyle who seek a vegetable with a meat-like quality will find oyster mushrooms to be a compelling alternative.
Due to its growing popularity, oyster mushrooms can be readily sold in the market. Mushrooms were previously only harvested from the wild during the rainy season, but now they can be cultivated. Consequently, people have become more knowledgeable about oyster mushrooms, including their preparation and consumption. In the past, the sale of mushrooms was challenging as consumers were unfamiliar with the product and its proper utilization. Moreover, there was caution due to the presence of wild mushrooms that are poisonous and inedible.
Motivations and Challenges
To finance his expansion plans, Dangalan sought a loan from Landbank. “To secure a loan from Landbank, I had to be registered with the DTI, BIR, and the mayor’s office. Having all the necessary documents allowed me to obtain a low-interest loan since Landbank offers favorable rates for agricultural purposes,” he explains.
With his loan, Dangalan invested in expanding his production capacity. He built a growing house capable of accommodating 25,000 fruiting bags and established a production area spanning approximately 150 square meters. Equipped with the necessary equipment and infrastructure, he gradually transitioned from buying fruiting bags to producing his own, reducing costs and increasing efficiency.
However, the approval of his loan and the expansion of his production area coincided with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, causing his retail outlets to close leading him to pull out all his goods in the market. Dangalan shares, “I couldn’t easily deliver freshly harvested mushrooms due to travel restrictions. Instead, I donated all my produce to health service workers to prevent any wastage.”
Mushroom farming, like any agricultural production, is also prone to infestation of pests. Dangalan emphasizes the significance of maintaining a clean facility to avoid contamination and pest infestations. Investing in proper infrastructure, such as cementing the production areas and installing netting, is crucial to ensuring contamination free production. Although he faced setbacks due to insect pests in the past that caused a 50% loss of his inventory, he is now committed to cleanliness, and learning from his experiences has enabled him to overcome such obstacles.
Dangalan’s success in mushroom farming has not only provided him with financial stability but has also allowed him to contribute to his community’s growth. He currently employs four regular workers and two contract workers, generating employment opportunities in his locality. Additionally, he offers tutorials and training programs on mushroom production and processing, partnering with the Agricultural Training Institute to help aspiring farmers.
“If you have associations or are in the area, you can approach the farm, which is affiliated with the ATI. They will coordinate with me, and the training will be free because ATI has an agreement with us for five years,” he explains.
Achievements and Future Plans
Dangalan has already obtained both FDA registration and halal certification for his mushroom business. The FDA registration ensures that his mushroom products meet the necessary safety and quality standards set by the Food and Drug Administration of the Philippines. This certification is crucial for his business as it demonstrates compliance with regulatory requirements, enhances consumer trust, and allows him to supply his products to markets. Additionally, obtaining halal certification is important as it caters to the dietary preferences and religious beliefs of the Muslim community. The halal certification assures Muslim consumers that the mushroom products from Tessie Mushroom House are prepared, processed, and produced according to Islamic dietary guidelines.
Through his dedication and perseverance, Danaglan has achieved financial stability for his business. Tessie Mushroom House has become a reliable source of income not just for him but also for his employees. However, he believes that his success should extend beyond his immediate circle, and he aspires to provide sustainable employment opportunities for at least ten individuals.
He envisions further growth and expansion in the mushroom market, aiming to supply his products to major supermarkets. “I should also expand my market as I already have an FDA certificate. I should be working on a more competitive labeling,” Dangalan said.
Dangalan’s motivation to succeed in mushroom farming is deeply intertwined with the memory of his late mother. The “Tessie Mushroom House” was named after his mother, serving as a constant reminder of the commitment and sacrifices he made to ensure her well-being.
“I don’t have any plans of letting this business go because I already invested a lot of effort and especially as a form of courtesy to my late mother since the business is named after her,” he said. His passion for mushroom farming, combined with his desire to honor his mother’s legacy, drives him to persevere in the face of challenges.
In the upcoming article, Jefte Dangalan will share his personal insights and valuable tips on the production of oyster mushrooms.
Photo courtesy of Tessie Mushroom House