Saturday, October 18, 2014

Love for mushrooms turns into family enterprise in Paoay

By Leilanie G. Adriano
Staff reporter

Paoay, Ilocos Norte—While looking for mushrooms needed for a dish to be served for her family while on vacation in the country, Marina Tagatac-Grant, 53, an independent human resources professional based in San Jose, California failed to see even a single piece at the market.
The fungi lady, Marina Tagatac-Grant and her organic oyster mushrooms in Nanguyudan, Paoay, Ilocos Norte.

“When I came here with my two children, it was their first time to come here in the Philippines with my husband, I was looking for mushrooms and my aunt told me that it’s seasonal and I was so surprised they were still hunting for mushrooms,” Ms. Grant said.

Her love for mushrooms dates back at her childhood days in Batac City when relatives would go to the mountains and to the rice fields looking for that soft and succulent mushroom grown after a couple of thunder and lightning during the rainy season in Ilocos region.

Up to this date, mushroom culture in the Philippines is less popular among traditional farmers. Hence, she decided to grow her own with YouTube as her first mentor.

It could have been a blessing in disguise as the Tagatac family in Barangay Nanguyudan, Paoay, Ilocos Norte have produced graduates in agriculture at the Mariano Marcos State University-College of Agriculture, Food and Sustainable Development (formerly known as College of Agriculture and Forestry) in Batac City and an inherited parcel of land located along the road at Nanguyudan overseeing the Paoay Lake.

Checking at the lot her grandfather Cecilio Tagatac left to all his children, one her cousins, Allan Tagatac suggested they could put up a mushroom farm in the area.

So in 2012, the Tagatac and Grant families started to clean up the land and constructed a 1,480 sq. m. organic mushroom farm equipped with an air-conditioned laboratory where they personally developed seeds, a production area in a close-room building and a separate storage facility among others. 

With the right mix of capital and manpower resources, having Allan, an agriculturist at the Provincial Government of Ilocos Norte-Veterinary Office and wife Ofelia Bucao, a crop science major and works in a private seed company, the husband and wife tandem work at the Tagatac-Grant mushroom farm as chief operations officer and chief for research and development while Marina serves as the owner and chief executive officer.

Born and raised to a farming family and considering the lack of employment in the Philippines, Marina decided to involve her other relatives at the farm for them to have an additional source of income.
Marina Tagatac-Grant, sister-in-law Ofelia Tagatac and her aunt Marcela Tagatac enjoy mushroom picking at the production building.

Like Allan’s mom, 66-year old Marcela Tagatac, she said she enjoys working at the farm, wearing her white robe uniform, a hair net and gloves while collecting mushrooms conveniently hanged in plastic containers inside a controlled temperature.

Combining the technology she learned from mushroom culture in the United States and from the local knowledge derived from the Batac University including field visits to technology demonstration farms here, the Tagatac-Grant fresh organic mushroom farm is gaining popularity after its inception in 2013.

Being the first complete tissue-culture mushroom facility in Ilocos region with a stream of loyal buyers mostly composed of balikbayans, restaurants and local individuals including those from Metro Manila, Ms. Grant said they envision to grow more promising varieties of mushrooms and later on explore the export market.

To date, the farm produces oyster and straw mushrooms pegged at a farm gate price of P300-P340 per kilo. According to the chief operations officer, they are harvesting at least 12 kilos daily. As they try to improve and learn by experiment or by trial and error, they hope to meet their average daily production target of 30-50 kilograms by the end of this year with a gross income of P9,000-P15,000 daily.

“Weather is a big factor in growing mushrooms. So, we are still on experiment[al] stage. This is our first year on full cycle and we want to grow other varieties such as shiitake, crimini or Italian brown which are very expensive in the market,” Ms. Grant said adding she is in and out of the country to personally supervise the farm on its infancy.

So far, the oyster mushroom, which is easier to grow in tropical climate found a local market niche with returning customers buying wholesale.

On September 25-27, the mushroom farm joined in the Ilocos Norte Food and Trade Expo where they displayed some of their products including a sample food taste of their mushroom dishes.

Loyal buyers at the Tagatac-Grant mushroom farm in Nanguyudan, Paoay, Ilocos Norte.
Although often grouped with vegetables such as the popular Ilokano dinengdeng, mushrooms are fungi and provide many nutritional benefits commonly found in meat, beans or grains including a similar number of nutrients as brightly colored fruits and vegetables.  Mushrooms are low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free and very low in sodium, yet provide several nutrients including Vitamin D, riboflavin, niacin, and selenium.

Aside from that, growing mushrooms convert agricultural waste such as rice straw into valuable product. These can also be used as feed stock for ruminants and a soil conditioner. No wonder the Tagatac-Grant mushroom farm is surrounded by forest trees, fruits, green leafy vegetables and magnificent view of the Paoay Lake giving a relaxing ambience for everyone visiting the farm during sunset.

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