By Zac B. Sarian
People, even if they did not study agriculture in college, will always get into some kind of agribusiness once they develop their passion for farming. Just like three people from Central Taiwan whom we interviewed during our trip to that island nation on May 28 to June 1.
One fellow who impressed us most is Steven Fang who founded the Magical Mushroom Tribe in 1993 in Changhua county when he was just 24 years old. Steven finished a Computer Engineering course but he had his first job as an employee of a mushroom grower (now retired).
Steven learned to love mushroom so much so he put up his own company with a clear vision of what he wanted to pursue. Today, Magical Mushroom Tribe is a very progressive company that churns out 12,000 kilos of mushrooms a day. Yes, 12,000 kilos of mushrooms every day. You would probably say that the company is the biggest mushroom grower in that country. But Steven will not admit that his is the biggest mushroom farm. What he likes most to emphasize is that he produces the best varieties of mushrooms that command a high price.
Fang said that the variety called White Fungus is really delicious and very expensive. One kilo costs the equivalent of P1,000 in Philippine money. Another bestseller is what is called King Oyster which does not look like the oyster mushroom that we grow in the Philippines. Another is Beauty Oyster which comes in clusters of dark mushrooms, very unlike the oyster mushroom grown in the Philippines. The Ganoderma is also grown in big volume for its medicinal value.
Actually, Magical Mushroom Tribe maintains 12 varieties but only six are commercially produced at the moment. The fresh mushrooms are exported to various places around the world including Japan, China, Russia, Europe, United States, Dubai, Africa, and Australia.
The company does not limit itself to the sale of fresh mushrooms. It processes its harvest into high-value products. One of the most expensive products is an enzyme that is claimed to aid digestion in humans. One bottle of about 750 ml costs the equivalent of P4,000 in Philippine money. Other processed products from mushroom include facewash, face mask, mushroom juice drink, mushroom sauce, noodles, mushroom coffee, mushroom chips together with other vegetables, and others.
The growing facilities are really high-tech. The huge growing houses are all air-conditioned, with one big building having a capacity of 600,000 fruiting bags. In order to get inside the growing house, one has to get sterilized by an air pressure. One has to wear a robe, hair net, and shoe net.
Magical Mushroom Tribe is also a tourist destination. Last year, about 20,000 visitors participated in do-it-yourself (DIY) recreational activities like pizza making with mushroom and other ingredients. The entrance fee is P200 in Philippine money but participating in DIY means additional fees. One can also enjoy mushroom shabu-shabu in their restaurant.
We met two part-time farmers who have their own lucrative main businesses. One of them is Lin Jui-Wen whose family operates the Vienna Pleasance Cottage in the tourist area of Cing Jing in Nantou county which is the only place in Taiwan that snows. The vacation facilities are earning good income for the family, but Lin Jui-Wen simply loves farming, which is also profitable.
He has a six-hectare farm where he grows tea, plum, and kiwi. He says that kiwi has been most profitable for him last year. He harvested 120 tons of kiwi which he sold at NT$220 per kilo which is worth more than P50 million in Philippine money.
Arabica coffee grower
Chia-Miao Chiu has a lucrative furniture business in Taiwan and Malaysia but he simply loves farming, so about ten years ago, he bought a 9-acre property in Taichung at a very high price. That’s where he grows organic Arabica coffee and various organic vegetables.
He admits that the furniture business is much more profitable than farming but farming can be very fulfilling. He is very proud of his Arabica coffee that he grows the organic way. Last season, he was able to harvest 8,000 kilos of Arabica beans which he himself processed and which he sells online. He gets the equivalent of P1,500 per kilo of ground coffee.
What he is most proud about is that he pays his 25 farm workers well. Three of them are from Thailand who is paid US$1,200 each per month.