Making money from mushrooms


Ripe pickings: Mohd Umar Samsudin, 30, a trainee at the Kasih Templer Autism Community Rehabilitation Centre, harvesting mushrooms that will be packed for sale. — Bernama

Employers are gradually realising how hiring people with disabilities (PWD) is advantageous and makes good business sense.

Given employment opportunities, disabled staff often outperform their able-bodied peers.

Operating on this premise, the Kasih Templer Autism Community Rehabilitation Centre (PDK) has been training PWD at its centre’s silk oyster mushroom farm in Batu Caves, Selangor, over the past five years.

The project, which kicked off in 2018, is part of PDK’s mushroom business.

(From left) PDK trainees Mohd Umar Samsudin, Noor Farizan and Athirah enjoying deep-fried battered silk oyster mushrooms after completing their daily tasks at the centre.(From left) PDK trainees Mohd Umar Samsudin, Noor Farizan and Athirah enjoying deep-fried battered silk oyster mushrooms after completing their daily tasks at the centre.

Centre supervisor Faziah Ahmad said the initiative was in line with the Federal Government’s Economic Empowerment Programme, a structured training programme that provides PWD with knowledge and skills for them to be gainfully employed.

“PDK provides employment opportunities for disabled youths.

“These trainees have been having difficulties securing employment in the outside world and have been unable to adapt to the environment and the people around them,” she told Bernama at the PDK office.

Workplace commitment

When it comes to finding suitable jobs, PWD are still heavily disadvantaged.

This is mainly because of employer prejudices that PWD would be unable to adapt to the workplace environment and end up as a potential burden.

“When we started on Jan 1, 2009, about 50 of our trainees were autistic children or youths. They were accepted in stages.

Autistic trainees (foreground, from left) Noor Farizan Rahmat and Athirah Roslan cleaning and packing the mushrooms. — Photos: BernamaAutistic trainees (foreground, from left) Noor Farizan Rahmat and Athirah Roslan cleaning and packing the mushrooms. — Photos: Bernama

“In 2019, the centre began to accept children with other disabilities including those with Down Syndrome and those with cerebral palsy who were mobile.

“At that time, 80% of 68 trainees at this PDK were autistic with learning disabilities, aged between four and 34 years. They came to the centre twice a week for therapy sessions,” Faziah said.

Today, the centre is supported by five staff.

Five trainees, aged between 24 and 32 years, are involved in the mushroom project and they work on weekdays.

Although they lack education, Faziah said they are able to receive instructions and execute their tasks effectively.

“We can see their commitment to working at the mushroom farm.

The PKD centre has been training youths with disabilities on how to cultivate mushrooms for five years.The PKD centre has been training youths with disabilities on how to cultivate mushrooms for five years.

“They make their work tasks part of their daily routine, from watering the mushrooms to harvesting and packing the products.”

Through their engagement in mushroom cultivation, the trainees are indirectly exposed to pre-vocational activities through agriculture and are learning to be self-reliant.

Improved cultivation method

For PDK’s silk oyster mushroom project, Faziah said some 2,000 wooden blocks were placed in a cultivation facility, a zinc-roofed shed covered with black netting to create a dark environment.

The mushroom fruiting blocks made of wood particles, were arranged and hung about 2m from the ground.

“Seedlings” are acquired from a mushroom entrepreneur in Sabak Bernam, Selangor, who has also trained PDK staff how to cultivate the mushrooms.

Mushroom fruiting blocks are suspended about two metres from the ground and are replaced every three to four months.Mushroom fruiting blocks are suspended about two metres from the ground and are replaced every three to four months.

“Prior to this, we tried several cultivation methods, including using coconut waste and padi straw but these were difficult for our trainees to arrange and hang up.

“The mushroom fruiting block has a longer lifespan of three to four months. Using the block-hanging method, more mushrooms can be produced,” Faziah said.

According to her, on average, the trainees can collect about 80kg of mushrooms daily.

Typically, oyster mushrooms are ready for harvest about three to four days after the first ones form.

Mushroom growth is rapid after continuous rainfall as the fungi thrives at a low temperature and in a damp environment.

“During the hot weather, we water it twice or thrice a day.

PDK’s mushroom project began in 2018 and proceeds from sales go towards empowerment training for youths and children with disabilities.PDK’s mushroom project began in 2018 and proceeds from sales go towards empowerment training for youths and children with disabilities.

“Once the mushrooms grow and develop (fruiting stage), they are ready for harvesting when the mushroom petals mature.

“Each fruiting block is replaced every three to four months,” Faziah said.

Silk oyster mushrooms, she said, are rich in vitamin D and help to improve the human immune system.

“This type of mushroom is whiter and larger than oyster mushrooms. It can be deep fried, made into soup, added to spring rolls or steamed buns.”

“It has a richer flavour than the brown oyster mushroom that is commonly found,” she said.

Community support

Initially, PDK’s customers were only the trainees’ parents and those from the community.

Back then, the mushrooms were sold for RM5 per 250g packet.

A trainee spraying the ground to maintain the low temperature and moisture in the mushroom-growing facility.A trainee spraying the ground to maintain the low temperature and moisture in the mushroom-growing facility.

Through word of mouth, PDK’s products gained popularity and its clientele now includes traders and civil servants from around Batu Caves and Gombak.

“In addition to putting up banners, we advertised on Facebook, after which we promoted our products to government workers including those in the local authorities, land offices as well as traders in the vicinity.

“Our regulars are mainly civil servants who work at the nearby government complex.

“We usually pack the mushrooms according to customer orders like 1kg or 6kg, in addition to the 250g packets that are sold at RM7,” Faziah said.

Proceeds from the mushroom sales are channelled back to the PDK to conduct additional training for the trainees.

The mushroom cultivation facility is covered with black netting to create a dark environment for the fungi to grow.The mushroom cultivation facility is covered with black netting to create a dark environment for the fungi to grow.

“We are looking to diversify our activities for the trainees such as teaching them how to use public transport, including buses.

“We are also interested in sending them for equine-assisted therapy.”

According to Faziah, the five trainees are given a monthly allowance of RM400 and if the centre is profitable, they will receive gifts or an annual bonus.

PDK trainee, Muhammad Sufian Abd Ghani, who goes by the name Abu, said he was delighted to be given the opportunity to work. The 32-year-old said mushroom farming had become a big part of his daily life.

“We usually take turns to water, harvest and pack the mushrooms. I always remind my colleagues on duty not to forget to water the mushrooms as I don’t want them to be damaged or die,” he said.

Abu is so devoted to the project that he is at the PDK almost every day, even on weekends.

He lives nearby and cycles to the centre, using the bicycle which was gifted to him by PDK.

He has also been named best trainee by PDK.

“I make sure that every day at 7.30am, all the mushrooms are watered, including in the evening.

“I enjoy doing this work,” said Abu who is also regarded as supervisor by other trainees.

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