In line with its expanding Mission of Education, Tzu Chi on February 7 opened the newest addition to its Livelihood Training Program (LTP): mushroom cultivation.
Seeing the success of the mushroom farm at the Great Love Village in Palo, Leyte, Tzu Chi volunteers hope to replicate it at the Great Love Campus in Sta. Mesa, Manila. Thirteen attendees, half of whom are Tzu Chi volunteers, attended the two-day seminar on growing various edible fungi. It was held in partnership with the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), a division of the Department of Agriculture that provides technical assistance on matters of crop production and protection.
“We were thinking of other valued crops aside from roselle, which is expensive when you sell them. We were thinking: ‘What about mushrooms?’” says Tzu Chi volunteer Olga Vendivel, overall coordinator for LTP expansion.
Palo’s livelihood programs include making bags, a vegetarian canteen, and organic farming.
“We can offer technical assistance once Tzu Chi starts mushroom cultivation. With regard to the spawns, we can also help until the cultivation program is self-sufficient,” says BPI mushroom cultivation consultant Hazel Joy Pacis.
The foundation plans to prepare the rooftop of the Great Love Campus’s main building for mushroom cultivation. As mushrooms require a cool, damp environment, the shed on the rooftop provides the ideal place. Before this undertaking, however, the volunteers to be assigned to Tzu Chi’s future mushroom farm must scale the steep learning curve of cultivation.
For the duration of the seminar, attendees got their hands dirty on making agars and substrates. For the agar, they boiled potatoes and used its stock to boil raw gulaman (dried seaweed). For the substrate, they mixed rice straw, lime, rice bran, and molasses, and packed them in plastic bags. They also learned that inoculation—introducing the mushroom specimen into the growth media—must be done in a sterilized area to prevent foreign bodies from killing the specimen.
Tzu Chi volunteer Ma. Teresa Miña admits that she got scared on her first attempt at inoculation. But as she and her fellow attendees repeated the process to fill 20 fruiting bags, she got better.
“I joined the seminar so that I could learn [how mushrooms are grown]. Aside from being idle in the house, we can learn more by participating in Tzu Chi’s activities,” remarks Miña, a volunteer of Barangay Pasong Tamo, Quezon City.
“I was curious how mushrooms were grown. I was excited, especially today because I got to see the actual process. It may seem difficult at first, but once you’re doing it, it becomes easy,” adds Romela Castillo, a fellow volunteer also from Pasong Tamo.
While genuine agar and substrates can be found in the market, not all aspiring mushroom growers can afford such materials. The seminar shows that anyone can start their venture with less costly materials, while benefitting from its huge return of investment.
“Basically, mushroom cultivation is a good livelihood, especially among rice-farming communities because rice straw is a basic material for substrates. If not, we can use other agricultural wastes like corn [bran] and even wood,” says Pacis.
More importantly, Vendivel adds that the program can encourage more people to embrace the vegetarian way.
“I think Master Cheng Yen would really be happy if everyone can be given the opportunity, especially those who are really interested, to make money out of this. Aside from that, they learn, they don’t waste their time, and at the same time go vegetarian,” says Vendivel.
The two-day seminar starts with a lecture about mushroom cultivation and all the details. Thirteen attendees, half of them Tzu Chi volunteers, showed interest in learning how mushrooms grow. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
BPI consultant Hazel Joy Pacis shows the math on the ideal amount of each material for a mushroom substrate. The substrate can either be sawdust or rice straw-based. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
This bottle of sorghum will serve to propagate the culture before being inoculated into the agar and, eventually, the substrate. Propagation allows a single bottle of culture to grow mushrooms for 20 fruiting bags. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
The sorghum-based growth spawns are placed inside a pressure cooker for sterilization. A single pathogen in the bottle can kill the culture. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
A molasses solution goes into each of the bottles that will hold the agar, a potato-dextrose mix. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
The mixed substrate is packed into plastic bags, which will become the earth from which the mushrooms will flourish. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
This picture shows the entire growing process, from a specimen suspended in agar to a full-grown mushroom. The mushroom shown is a Reishi, widely used in medical supplements. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Even after being sterilized, the bottles still need disinfecting for a safe inoculation. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Tzu Chi volunteer Ma. Teresa Miña carefully introduces the specimen into the jar of agar. The inoculation chamber minimizes the specimen’s exposure to foreign bodies. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Tzu Chi volunteer Romela Castillo tries her hand at inoculation. By repeating the process several times, the once-nervous attendees have gotten the hang of it. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】