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Love makes these mushrooms grow

ShiitakeTo grow good mushrooms, you have to be a little in love with them.
"And with shiitake mushrooms, extra patience is needed because of the meticulous cultivation process," "said Ooi Chooi Liang the director of Agro Bio-Future Sdn Bhd in Alor Star, the company that runs the s hiicalge business.

Ooi also described how he and his wife, K. Rajakatmari, came to be organic shiitake mushroom farmers on Gunung Jerai.

"Finding the perfect location was not easy. After years of research and experimeutaliun, we fbund the best spot at the top ofGunung Jerai."

Shiitake mushrooms grow on dead hardwood trees in an eu,ironmeut that combines temperatures of 18. Celsius to 24. Celsius and a relative humidity of more than 85 per cent.

In addition, the location must have daily temperature changes of about five per cent and be misty for most of the day.

Ooi grows his mushrooms on logs specially made from rubberwood sawdust and other ingredients which include wheat, oats, rice and nutrients to put the spawn in.

The sawdust is locally sourced and the spawn imported from Japan.

After harvesting the mnshrooms,the used logs undergo a natural process called "vernticomposthlg" breaking down the organic matter with earthworms, producing a nutri-ent-rich organic fer tlliser and soil conditiener called"vermicompost', which is used on the farm to grmv organic vegetables.

Ooisaid they grow more than 10 types of vegetables, inclnding lettuce, cabbage, purple cauliflower and radish.

"They are safe to be eateu siraightaway because they are pesticide-free.And because the vegetables are organically grown, they fetch higher prices."

The farm was established in 1985,and for the first 10 years production was slow.

But now, all the hard work is paving off, and his son and daughter have left their careers to help their parents.

Their son worked in IT and the daughter was a medical doctor. "I'm proud to say we now produce
export quality shlitake mushrooms consistently and systematically.

"Our farm produces an average of 200-300kg of shiitake a day, and it is sold for RM40 to RMS0 per kg.
"We export the mushrooms and vegetables mainly to Singapore and we also sell them to some local supermarket chains."
The Oois are exploring other mar! kets for their produce, including Australia and Japan, and looking at expanding the farm.

"At present, we are using 0nly about four hectares out of the 10 we have. We are trying to increase capacity to meet the rising demand for our organic mushrooms and vegetables.

"Of course, we need to do this without felling a single tree or destroying the environment,"

Ooi also said he and his green entourage are ready In share their knowledge and expertise with other farmers in the area.

"Agriculture has a lot of potential. We at Agro Bio-Future have proven that it is economically viable if it is done smartly and sustahiably."

High demand for longevity symbol

ShiitakeALOR STAR:Amid the lush greenery near the peak of Gunung Jerai lies a farm that produces little miracles known to some as the Asian symbol of longevity.

It is the highly-flavoured shiitake mushroom (Lentinula edodes) that adds extra zing to many Asian dishes.

Also known as the “black forest mushroom” or “Chinese black mushroom”, it is popular not only for its meaty, delectable flavour, but also its reputed medicinal benefits.

The shiitake mushroom has all the essential amino acids in a higher and more concentrated proportion than soyabeans, meat, milk or eggs. It is also rich in essential vitamins and minerals, including A, B, B12, C, D and niacin.

The mushroom is native to China, but has been cultivated in both China and Japan since pre-historic times. About half of the world's supply of shiitake mushrooms comes from Japan.

Although it is expensive, the demand for shiitake is growing as more scientific findings support its perceived medicinal properties.

To fulfil the increasing demand, and to enjoy the handsome profits, more countries, such as the United States, Korea and Taiwan, have started to grow their own shiitake.

The shiitake mushrooms in Gunung Jerai are grown in a natural forest environment with a constant flow of spring water and pure air. No synthetic chemicals are used.

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