Children who grow up in a farm are said to learn responsibility and develop good work ethic early, and also become good friends.
Brothers Ted and Bong Quemado were raised on a farm in Malaybalay, Bukidnon. They love the land and are determined to continue cultivating it, with the aid of technology from Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart).
The brothers, both in their twenties, are behind the successful social enterprise Mushroom City, makers of the healthy, guilt-free chicharon made from oyster mushrooms grown naturally in the highlands of Bukidnon.
Ted is a graduate of plant pathology (cum laude), while the older Bong’s background is marketing. The tandem recently opened the business to resellers, wholesalers and retailers not only in the Philippines but also around the world, thanks to the Internet.
While completing his studies at Central Mindanao University, Ted worked as an apprentice in a mushroom processing center in Malaybalay. He learned that the cool climate and the humidity level in the highlands of Barangay Kalasungay, where their family lives, were suitable to growing mushrooms.
“This inspired me and my family to start our mushroom farm and business after I graduated,” he says.
To ensure success, the brothers turned to technology: they attended trainings under Digital Farmers Program (DFP), jointly run by the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) of Department of Agriculture (DA) and Smart.
The program seeks to empower farmers nationwide through digital technologies. The first phase familiarizes trainees with social media platforms for business use, as well as internet safety.
It also trains farmers how take photos, shoot videos and edit them; conduct interviews and write stories to accompany their visual materials; and produce their own agri-related online content.
Along with parent company PLDT, Smart is committed to helping the Philippines attain the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) through various corporate social responsibility initiatives. DFP falls under programs for SDG #8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, wherein societies create conditions to help ensure quality jobs.
DFP gave the brothers the direction they needed to push their venture to a much broader market. Soon after they finished their trainings, Ted and Bong developed the online presence of Mushroom City. “Technology has been our tool in marketing our products,” says Bong.
With the rise of online sellers and health advocates, Mushroom City has been attracting more and more buyers, especially those who are looking for all-natural and keto-friendly food.
“We harvest 20-40 kilos of mushrooms a day,” Ted says. Their products include fresh oyster mushrooms, known for its delicate texture and savory flavor. Other products include mushroom fruiting bags, mushroom chili garlic sauce and variants of their bestseller mushroom chicharon.
Further proof of their online influence is their constant appearance in agripreneurial webinars. Their trainings via social media have taken the place of Mushroom City’s hands-on seminars on the proper way to cultivate mushrooms, wherein they also give participants a tour of their farm.
Secure in their success, the Quemados hope to lift the farming community as well by raising awareness about e-commerce and digital tools that could help them farmers sell their products directly to the consumers and be more profitable.
Aside from fellow farmers, the brothers have extended help to frontliners in the fight against COVID-19 through food donations.
“Staying healthy through eating nutritious food is essential, especially in this pandemic,” says Ted. Prior to this, the social enterprise has been allocating a portion of its earnings to a school for lumad children in the province.
The basic DFP trainings are particularly useful to small-holder farmers who are unable to tap the vast resources of agriculture apps due to lack of basic digital knowledge.
More advanced topics include mobile agriculture and financial services — third-party farming apps, mobile e-money, micro credit, and more.
The final phase will involve training on digital entrepreneurship, Internet of Things (IoT), content development modules, and advance Internet safety, such as data privacy.
To learn more about Smart and DA-ATI’s Digital Farmers Program, send an email to [email protected].