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Alberto Dy: Growing Organic Mushrooms Need TLC

Updated on June 14, 2014
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Grand Old Lady is embracing her life with enthusiasm and interest in learning all things new. She loves her dogs and her family.

May, 2001 issue of Cook Magazine, when I was still working as executive editor of the publication
May, 2001 issue of Cook Magazine, when I was still working as executive editor of the publication | Source

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.

Article in table of contents
Article in table of contents | Source

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.”

Alberto Dy invented his own drying machine.
Alberto Dy invented his own drying machine. | Source

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.

Mushroooms
Mushroooms | Source

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.

Article spread

two page spread article
two page spread article | Source

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.

Source

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.

Source

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.”

Source

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.

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    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      Hello Johnny Come Lately. I had to look up Azolla to understand it better. How wonderful that you are coming to the Philippines. Please let me know when you are here, so that my husband and I can take you out for dinner at Mushroomburger in Tagaytay. It's our favorite place in the world.

    • jonnycomelately profile image

      Alan 2 years ago from Tasmania

      This is a wonderful Hub, thank you so much. I will be in Philippines soon, to study and share my knowledge of Azolla. Hopefully visit Mushroomburger.

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      Hi Anita Saran, yes, he is pretty dynamic, and he does make mushroom growing appear to be very appealing.

    • Anita Saran profile image

      Anita Saran 2 years ago from Bangalore, India

      Very interesting and what a dynamic character Dy. I wish I could grow mushrooms!

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      Monis Mas, I am delighted to know that your friend is growing mushrooms in his basement. I wish him well! Thanks for stopping by.

    • Monis Mas profile image

      Aga 2 years ago

      A friend of mine grows mushrooms in his basement, as a business. He is doing very well.

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      Borsia, I'm surprised that you never heard of Mushroomburger! My husband and I consider it part of the basic Tagaytay experience. Try the vegan Mushroom sandwich, for something that's really different. I know there are so many options for restaurants in Tagaytay, but this is the only fast food that is healthy, organic and indigent to this wonderful city. Good luck!

      Olongsquito, the original recipe of the mushroomburger that was given by the Swiss chef mentioned in the story is still in use. You should really go there to experience organic, healthy fastfood.

    • ologsinquito profile image

      ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

      This is so interesting. I'd love to try the mushroom burger.

    • Borsia profile image

      Borsia 2 years ago from Currently, Philippines

      Very interesting!

      I live in Tagaytay, Alfonso actually, but have never seen Mushroomburger, even though I must drive past it very often.

      But I just looked it up on Google Earth and made note of where it is so I can check it out.

      I love to cook with mushrooms and have been disappointed with what little is available here.

      Thanks for an informative hub ;-)

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      janderson99, thank you for your kind words. Such a short message, but truly, small is beautiful:). Peggy W, yes, Mr. Dy really is a resourceful businessman. It's good to know that you are not the only one who sometimes gets mystified by your compost. My dog Mocha Barney keeps eating the leaves of my cucumber, and I also potted onions and monggo beans. Then Mocha spilled one of the pots and my lovely compost soil came out and I think the seed of an onion had something popping out of it. Well, I had to put everything back in, but now I'm kinda mad a Mocha. Nell Rose, thank you for reading and for sharing. Wish I could email you a Mushroomburger to your part of the globe:)

    • janderson99 profile image

      Dr. John Anderson 2 years ago from Australia on Planet Water

      Excellent article

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 2 years ago from Houston, Texas

      What an innovative entrepreneur that man was in starting and improving his mushroom business! I love mushrooms but have never tried growing them. Speaking of compost...I used some of my compost to spread around our banana plants and have tomatoes sprouting along with some type of vine which could be zucchini or melons. Hard to tell at this stage. I transplanted a couple of the tomato plants where they will get more light in which to grow. I guess I will find out which kind they are when they start producing. Ha!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

      Fascinating read, I love mushrooms so this was really interesting stuff, thanks grand old lady, voted up and shared! nell

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      Mel Carriere, glad that you like Filipino food:).

      Sangre, yes, his story is really rather amazing. Just goes to show what you can achieve when you are "hands on" with your business and you have a great gift for listening.

    • sangre profile image

      Sp Greaney 2 years ago from Ireland

      That's such a great story. I love how along the way he met these people who gave him advice which made him become more successful. Just goes to shows a little bit of courage and skill and you can do anything.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      I am not the world's number one fan of mushrooms but a mushroom burger with a side of that pancit would definitely hit the spot right now. Great hub!

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      Hi Flourish Anyway, yes, you are so right, he has a strong entrepreneurial spirit backed by a vision for a healthy and eco friendly world. He makes it sound so easy to do, as well which makes Mr. Dy's story so very encouraging. Thank you for the visit!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      I like his entrepreneurial spirit and the fact that this is a vegetarian option in such a meat-hungry world.

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      Hi Travmaj, thank you for stopping by. You know, when I retyped this story from the magazine (which published the article in 2001) I really had a deeper appreciation for Mr. Dy and what he accomplished. And comparing it to how Mushroomburger has grown since then, it is really true that hard work pays off, and it helps to have a vision, in his case, an eco-friendly one. It is pretty compelling to see how his mind works as a businessman and how he was willing to perform the lowest of tasks to make sure his business takes off. I guess nothing beats passion, humility an drive as a formula for success, and the country is richer for it.

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      What a story, so positive, all the hard work paying off in the end. Little wonder really with such a product as organic mushrooms obviously cultivated with care. Most interesting read, thank you.

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      DDE, so glad that you love mushrooms, more so since they are healthy and nutritious. Thanks for the visit:). CrisSp, Tagaytay is my husband's favorite place in the world. They say you should do two things if you are there. First, visit Mushroomburger. Next, eat bulalo. Tagaytay Highlands is like the Forbes Park of Tagaytay and if you know someone who owns property there, it's a great place to visit. They have a very nice zoo inside. Thank you for sharing:). Nadine May, ya, Mr. Dy is a great entrepreneur, especially since he was willing to run his own mushroom kiosk even when it sold only one hamburger a day, and he was a very good listener. Plus, he made new, organic alternatives to every step of mushroom development that lowered production costs while improving health. His engineering skills were an advantage, but it didn't faze him from the fact that he didn't know anything about the restaurant and marketing business. Thank you for stopping by.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      An informative and so useful hub. Mushrooms are among my favorite foods and so enjoy the different kinds. An interesting insight to this story.

    • CrisSp profile image

      CrisSp 2 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      Interesting! Putting this on my list and will surely go to Tagaytay in my next visit to the Phil. Been there many years ago - beautiful place. I don't eat beef (and pork), so mushroomburger sounds perfect specially if it's organically grown.

      Thank you for sharing this good and inspirational story. Well done!

      Up and sharing.

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 2 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      What a great entrepreneur in the end. Great story. I never knew that there are 2000 varieties of mushrooms in the world. How do we find out which one is edible. At least 300 of them!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 years ago from The Caribbean

      Great article. Dy is an inspiration and you are a good story teller. Congratulations again!

    • grand old lady profile image
      Author

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      Ericdierker, Lol! Whatever works, I say:). Faith Reaper, yes, it's funny how the same product can become successful when you change the package and raise the price. Marketing is a science all its own:). Billybuc, thank you for your kind words. BTW, I started planting cucumbers with some of my compost and the leaves are emerging and all head toward the sun. I also planted onion seeds at the same time, but nothing has emerged. Anyway, now I will try mongo which I know grows in just one day. I have lots of compost to spare:)

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Now I know it is not PC but at certain times I spank my shrooms to get them to release that odor and flavor. Am I crazier than normal?

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

      Interesting article here and on how Dy's business endeavors increased once he changed the packing and raised the price of his mushroom burger. Great imagery too.

      Up and more and away

      Blessings

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      He is a man who is a pioneer in his own way. Fascinating story my friend.

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