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Alberto Dy: Growing Organic Mushrooms Need TLC
Mushrooms Need TLC
Note: I wrote this article originally in the March, 2001 issue of COOK Magazine. Since then, Mushroomburger has added four new branches in 297 Katipunan Heights QC, 2nd Flr. Gonzaga Bldg. Ateneo de Manila, Km 60, Aguinaldo Highway, QC and 91 West Ave. QC.
However, Mushroomburger remains a landmark for the complete Tagaytay experience. Vegetarians love its Musroom Sandwich, which is made 100 percent with mushrooms. Non vegetarian options include Mushroom Burgers, Mushroom Beef and Pancit Canton Delight, among others.
When Mushroomburger first opened, it averaged sales of 1 burger a day. Today, it averages 1,600 per day. Patience has reaped its reward in a country that once believed all mushrooms are poisonous. Initially, they were only used as ingredients in siopao. Not anymore. Here’s the story of mushrooms that are organically grown and harvested and now, has set its signature in Filipino food.
A Filipino Pioneer for Organic Mushrooms
Has anyone ever called you “fungus face?” If so, smile back and thank the person for the compliment. After all, a mushroom is fungi. And in Europe, even as far back as the 70s, mushrooms had always been more costly than beef. That is what Alberto Dy, proprietor of Biofood Corporation, told us. Dy pioneered the biggest mushroom making enterprise in the country. He also started Mushrooburger, the country’s classic fastfood joint which opened its first outlet on his farm in Tagaytay.
“Producing cultured mushrooms is an art,” Dy says with a ready smile. “You are dealing here with living things, subject to all kinds of disease. So if you want your mushrooms to grow, they need tender loving care, just like people.”
Chemicals Not Allowed
What’s more, all of his mushrooms are organic. “They feed on nothing except natural things,” Dy says, adding, “Mainly, ground corn and water.” He adds that there are over 2000 varieties of mushrooms in the world, some 300 of which are edible. Dy grows four of them – abalone, oyster, wooden ears, and shiitake.
“It would be cheaper and easier to boost my mushrooms with a chemical product in place of the corn, but I won’t have it any other way,” Dy says. “Chemicals, once retained in the body, may cause side effects.”
He originally worked in logging, and wanted to make use of the by product, sawdust. The mushroom’s other spawn, once cultured, is planted into a plastic bag of sawdust and ground corn, then watered eight times a day and kept in a moist environment (in his case, 17 sanitized, dark cottages). Over time, (60 days for the abalone, oyster and wooden ears; 180 days for shiitake), the mushrooms bloom.
A Swiss Chef Offers Advice
Dy started experimenting with mushroom growing in 1976, beginning with three growing houses which produced over 30 kilos of mushrooms a day. Then he moved his farm to Tagaytay and things started to happen. He set up a stall along the road on his farm and sold mushrooms there. One day a Swiss man stopped by with his Filipina wife. Unaware that Dy was the owner, the Swiss man said, “Your mushroom is cheaper than beef but in Switzerland, mushroom is much more expensive than beef.”
Dy offered him a beer and they began to talk. The Swiss man said, “Why don’t you mix a burger with mushrooms and sell it?” He added that he had a recipe. “I was an engineer, I knew nothing about food,” Dy said. Nonetheless, he decided to give it a try.
Marketing Advice Over the Counter
He set up a kiosk where he sold his mushroom burger and on the first day, from 7 am to 2 pm, had no sale. “By 4:30 I cornered a girl and offered her my burger for P3.50. She bought it, not knowing that I would have given it to her for free.”
Then one day, a group of people sat in his kiosk and one of them said, “The owner of this place is not a marketing man.” While they were discussing his burger, Dy listened. “They didn’t know I was the owner,” he said, so he introduced himself.
They advised him to change his packaging, and raise his price. And so, in place of the ordinary plastic wrapper, he invested in a packaging design. He also made his burger more costly than a leading hamburger joint. That was his turning point.
Growing Mushrooms With His Own Inventions
Dy showed us his expansive farm, and we were truly impressed with what we saw; endless cottages housing plastic bags of mushrooms at different stages of growth, all kept very clean.
He pulled out a bag for us and said, “once the color of the sawdust and corn turn white, we open it so the flower can bloom.” He added that each bag can grow an average of 300 grams of mushrooms within four to six months.
He then pointed to a lamp and said, “I invented that.” His mushrooms were attacked by mites, but he wouldn’t use insecticide. “I watched people use light to attract gamu gamu (small moths), so I took a lamp, spread car grease on the sides, then wrapped it in plastic.”
Dy also reinvented a drier which he formerly used to dry shiitake. “I copied an electrical model, but used firewood, he said. “I saved P800 in electricity every day. We burned leftover wood from my real estate and construction business,” he added.
Compost Pit, Recycled Cans
We also saw his automatic bagger, sterilization area, and incubator chamber. He explained in great detail what each chamber and equipment did. One thing was clear, he devised a cheaper ways to produce given tasks just as well, if not better, at each stage.
We also saw his conveyor disposing old bags of sawdust into a truck. “They will be brought to my compost pit, and recycled to fertilizer,” Dy said. As we talked, he patiently held his empty can of soda. Yes, even cans are recycled and employees benefit from the sales of all its recycled goods.
We were about to go, then Dy asked us to look carefully at his cottages and tell us what we observed. When we could not figure it out he replied, “Don’t you notice, every stone cottage stands beside a wooden cottage? I planned it that way.”
The Penultimate Recycler
He explained that when he first built his mushroom farm decades back, he anticipated he would someday be moving to someplace bigger. In fact, he is transferring his mushrooms to a larger tract of land in Cavite. And what will happen to its present site?
“These will become townhouses, “ he explained. “The wooden cottages will be torn down to give each house space for parking.” Indeed, Dy is the penultimate recycler. And we say that with TLC.