My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: NOW expands to capture JA$35 million Jamaican Edible Mushroom - How Jamaican can grow and store Edible Mushrooms

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

NOW expands to capture JA$35 million Jamaican Edible Mushroom - How Jamaican can grow and store Edible Mushrooms

This story is so interesting because I've always wanted to do this.

I'm of course referring to the farming of Mushrooms by NOW (Network of Women for Food Security), who are on a path towards exporting them as noted in the article “Cashing In On Mushrooms”, Published Sunday April 5, 2015 by Neville Graham, The Jamaica Gleaner.

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The group literally, in the space of a year, mushroomed from twenty (20) women mushroom farmers to their current number of fifty (50) women mushroom farmers. Now they're on the cusp of going into the supply of Mushrooms to offset the JA$35 million in export demand for mushrooms annually, based on 2012 figures.

They're not the first to grow mushrooms commercially, as Carl and Juliet Duncan have been growing Gourmet Mushrooms for the past twenty seven (27) years since 1998 as noted in the article “Gourmet mushrooms”, published Thursday, September 19, 2002 by NOVIA MCDONALD-WHYTE, The Jamaica Observer.

The variety of edible mushrooms that Jamaicans seem to enjoy is quite extensive:

1.         Black trumpet
2.         Chanterelle
3.         Cremini
4.         Cultivated mushrooms
5.         Enokitake
6.         Horn of plenty
7.         Oyster
8.         Portobello
9.         Wild Mushrooms

So how did these women get started in Mushroom Farming? And is this an opportunity that Jamaican Farmers can partake?

Mushroom farming - How to grow them and store them for cooking purposes

Of the fourteen thousand (14,000) different kinds Mushrooms that exist, only three thousand (3000) are considered edible as noted in the article “Mushrooms As Food And Medicine”, Published Tuesday June 4, 2013, By Dr Tony Vendryes, The Jamaica Gleaner.

Mushrooms are grown from spores as shown in the video below.


It takes about six (6) weeks from the planting of spores to reap a full crop of Mushrooms, very fast turnaround for such a well love product in Jamaica.  Surprisingly, they are as nutritious as actual fruits and Vegetables and in Jamaica have been long overlooked, possibly because they're imported and very expensive to produce.

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Fresh mushrooms are firm and moist with no damp or wet spots. They, however, 90% water and very absorbent, so soaking them when cooking isn’t at all necessary! Care should however, be exercise in storing them, as like vegetables the sweat and can easily spoil and get slimy. Instead, store them either in a paper bag or in Newspaper in a plastic container that's left open to the air.

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Even better, get satchets of silica gel and place them inside of little plastic bags and then punch holes in that plastic bag Then place the plastic bag with the silica gel inside of the same container as the mushrooms to absorb all moisture and thus help them stay fresh for weeks.....that' what I do to keep my carrots fresh.

Finally, don't clean until just before cooking, and only do so with a pastry brush or damp cloth. No running Water is necessary.

NOW and Mushroom farming - JA$7000 per week for Groups involved in Mushroom Farming co-operative

NOW is a farming co-operative located in central and northern Manchester of run by some fifty (50) mushroom women. They initially started out with approximately twenty (20) women mushroom farmers less than a year ago in August 2014.

The NOW farming-co-operative is thanks to a partnership with Jamaica National Foundation's SEBI (Social Enterprise Boost Initiative) and FFP (Food For The Poor) as noted in the article “Network Of Women Mushroom Farming - Rural Women Partner With FFP, Social Enterprise Boost Initiative For Mushroom Production”, published Friday August 8, 2014 by  Tamara Bailey, The Jamaica Gleaner.

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By Monday, September 29th 2014, they'd begun building their first mushroom house outfitted with classrooms, labs, offices, bathrooms and a kitchen as stated in the article “Ground Broken For Mushroom House”, Published Monday October 6, 2014 by Tamara Bailey, The Jamaica Gleaner.

Back then, the idea was that the Mushroom houses would be used by 25 groups of contracted farmers with each group being made up of five (5) women farmers.

They'd grow their mushroom in their sections inside of the Mushroom grow House and then NOW would purchase the mushrooms from the women at a rate of JA$551.16 per Kg (JA$250 per Lb) as explained by NOW Executive Director Pauline Smith, quote: “The idea is that we train five women in a cell and they will be given one mushroom house, which will come with 60 ready-to-grow mushroom bags/kits ... each bag will produce seven pounds of mushrooms per flush and there are five flushes before you discard the bag, so 35 pounds can be received from one bag”.

NOW then distributed the Mushrooms to their clients, mostly restaurants and hotels, with the farmers making a minimum profit of $7,000 per week! Not bad for growing Mushrooms!

NOW Mushrooms in expansion Mode - JA$35 million mushroom Market up for grabs

Thought these funding facilities, they've be able to raise some JA$43 million in venture capital funds to expand their operations just to feed this growing JA$35 million local demand from their hotel and restaurant clients, to quote NOW Executive Director Pauline Smith: “We just got signed off on $43 million of the $54 million needed to really get us started, and by May we should be gradually building up to full production”.

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To this end, they've gone into expansion mode as according to Pauline Smith, there's good earning in growing Mushrooms:

1.      JA$1,200 per Kg for button mushrooms
2.      JA$5,500 per Kg for oyster mushrooms
3.      JA$19,000 per Kg for shitake mushrooms

To meet production targets, NOW currently has ten (10) grow houses. Two (2) women run each house where the mushrooms spores are grown under optimum conditions.  The farming co-operative also has a Building that will house the following component to their Mushroom farming enterprise:

1.      Processing operation
2.      Laboratory
3.      Test kitchens
4.      Spore germination facility

April 2015 will see them delivering packaged compost for growing the mushrooms to start small-scale production by May 2015.  NOW long term strategy is a slow ramp up to about 25% production capacity and increase to close to full capacity after a year.

Food For The Poor, seeing that the NOW farming co-operative is doing so well, will give them another twenty five (25) grow houses. Six (6) women will run each of the 5x5 m (16x16 feet).

The spores and the technical-know-how is being supplied by co-operation with the Penn State University with help from the USAID and a boatload of US Peace Corps. When production is up to full capacity, the NOW Group can produce the following amount of Mushrooms:

1.      7,700 Kg of various mushroom varieties per month
2.      92, 400 Kg of various mushroom varieties per month

That translates to 50% of the total JA$35 million worth of mushrooms imported annually from NOW farming co-operative alone. Jamaica, are you ready for the next big food crop that’s also very good or you?  Mushroom farming co-operatives may soon spread from Manchester to a Community Farm near you.
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