The humidity and cleanliness of the air are vital to ensure mushrooms produced are healthy and fresh.

Whenever Mohammad Zakaria Jamsari wants fresh mushrooms, all he needs to do is just pluck some from his mushroom nursery. Operating in the backyard of his house here in Jalan Bukit Siol, Petra Jaya, Zakaria’s little farm has evolved into a small mushroom production hub.

From hobby to serious business

Starting off as just a hobby, Mohammad Zakaria Jamsari never thought that growing his own mushrooms would evolve into a business.

Zack, 36, grows and sells his mushrooms to housewives and restaurant owners.

He explained that he was only growing mushrooms for personal consumption at first.

“It was all started after I watched a YouTube video on how to grow mushrooms,” Mohammad Zakaria, who is also fondly known as Zack, said to New Sarawak Tribune during an exclusive interview at his farm recently.

He said he was intrigued by how mushrooms were grown and soon started got to work to see if he could do the same.

The mushroom spawning planters are filled with rubberwood dust, agricultural lime and rice bran.

“I started with ten blocks and then added another 20 to 50 blocks. I was so amazed when I saw my first mushroom and I immediately fell in love with it,” he recalled.

With the rising concerns over food safety and food security, the 36-year-old believes urban farming is the best way to go for city dwellers.

Urban farming is defined as “growing or producing food in or around urban areas”. Although the word “farming” usually refers to large scale activities for commercial purposes, the term “urban farming” has also been widely used to refer to community and home-based gardens.

According to the Department of Agriculture in 2017, the demand for mushrooms by 2020 has been projected to grow up to 67,000 metric tonnes.

The department also recorded that the production of domestic mushrooms in 2016 was amounting of 4,830 metric tonnes in total.

Zack says the mushroom spawns are kept on the shelves and must kept moist.

In fact, Malaysia also had imported RM 238 million worth of mushrooms in 2017, although this edible fungus can be produced locally.

Realising a huge demand in commercialising his organic edible fungus, Zack finally decided to bravely venture into the mushroom growing business.

In 2018, with his savings and financial support from his family and close friends, he established mushroom planting company Quezar Qiaa and converted a vacant 1,600 square metre room into his first mushroom greenhouse with a capacity of 6,000 blocks of mushroom planters at time.

From YouTube, Zack has since then further strengthened his skill by attending agricultural courses and workshops, as well as receiving training, in mushroom planting organised by related government agencies like Mardi (Malaysian Agriculture Research Development Institute) and Institute Pertanian Sarawak.

Becoming a mushroom agropreneur

Zack’s journey into urban farming, specifically in growing grey oyster mushrooms, he described, has been both eye-opening and exciting, although the process wasn’t smooth sailing at first.

“It took some time for me to be able to adapt to a very packed schedule because I also working as a ticketing officer at a travel agency during weekdays,” he said.

Before the first ray of sunshine hits the day, Zack is already awake as he would be in his mushroom house checking on them and watering other crops.

For him, “there are no such things as holidays”.

“I usually wake up early during weekends. By 6am, I will be at my mushroom house preparing mushrooms,” he told.

This second mushroom house was built under a grant for the Young Agropreneur 2019 which Zack received from Mardi.

The process of preparing mushrooms, he explained, is tedious as he has to stand up and kneel for hours to ensure the mushrooms are harvested properly.

“To prepare the mushrooms, the boxes are filled with rubberwood dust, agricultural lime and rice bran steamed for eight hours and left to rest for two days.

“They are then injected with mushroom spawn and arranged on shelves which are kept moist. The floor too must be kept moist,” he said, adding that cleanliness from polluted air and odour is paramount in cultivating oyster mushroom.

“The spores from the oyster mushrooms are easily destroyed by unnatural odour, including perfume.

“Two years ago, I suffered losses when all my mushroom blocks were damaged due to the smoke from burning garbage,” he elaborated.

Rome wasn’t built in a day

Enriched with excellent dietary sources like protein, amino acids, vitamins, carbohydrates, fibre and numerous minerals, more people have been encouraged to venture into the production of fresh mushrooms as it brings lucrative income.

But one must understand that Rome wasn’t built in just one day, he said.

From watering to harvesting, trimming, packing and delivering, this preparation work requires someone with a high level of patience and works whole-heartedly.

The mini farm — a place where Zack often spends his time at during weekends.

“Growing mushrooms undeniably gives you a lucrative income. Like myself, I can earn about RM1,000 to RM2,000 a month, just by doing this part-time.

“Those who are serious in venturing into agricultural business should understand that they may not earn any income quickly and must be prepared to ‘suffer’ to make ends meet until their crops are ready for harvest.

“It must be done with passion and high commitment as it requires long hours to get all the things done,” he advised.

Besides mushrooms, he also grows vegetables and herbs, along with a small hydroponic system for growing tomatoes and other leafy greens.

Young Agropreneur Grant 2019 by Mardi

Zack shared that he had been awarded the Young Agropreneur 2019 grant amounting of RM15,000 by Mardi.

Never looking back since the day he had found joy in urban farming, the two years of hardship and struggles has indeed paid off.

Under the grant, Zack had constructed a new mushroom house spawning along 2,000 square ft in the backyard.

“The second mushroom house can accommodate about 8,000 to 10,000 mushroom planting blocks at one time.

“For this, I am truly grateful to receive the grant and would like to thank Mardi for their assistance and guidance,” he said.

Asked whether he would venture full-time into growing mushrooms, he said he is planning to market white oyster mushrooms and is now in the midst of running the trial process for cultivation.

“I am looking into it now because I believe that urban farming will continue to grow and become the backbone of our economy.

“I hope more people, especially youth, will take up mushroom growing and become successful mushroom producers,” he said.