It’s been weeks since a Palestinian vegetable vendor from the West Bank town of Jericho last imported mushrooms, selling instead homegrown organic ‘shrooms grown for the first time in the West Bank. Amoro Mushroom Farm in Jericho – the first farm in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to commercially produce white mushrooms – is emerging as a popular alternative for grocers and restaurants. Mushrooms are a popular veggie in Palestinian recipes.
“I used to import this kind of mushroom from Israel, selling three boxes every day,” vendor Hani Ismail told Xinhua, adding, “Now I sell 10 boxes because my customers prefer the locally grown variety.”
The idea to grow white mushrooms in Jericho grew from a casual chat between Samir Khreisheh and three of his friends while dining in the town. One asked the chef where his mushrooms came from, pressing why the fleshy fungus couldn’t be locally grown. The four foodies got passionate, studying mushrooms and the best conditions for farming them. They visited mushroom farms in other countries and researched best techniques to grow them.
“White mushrooms are very sensitive and shy. They need a special environment, humidity, oxygen, carbon dioxide, special heat and certain kinds of gases. It was difficult in the beginning to make ensure the right environment, this is why we had to deeply study every detail,” said Khreisheh.
They constructed three purpose-built rooms to offer the necessary growing environment and imported fungal spores from Holland; they named their start-up Amoro. The farm currently produces three tons of organic white mushrooms every month, with plans to increase production to six tons per month by summer, selling mainly to restaurants and shops in the West Bank and Gaza. A 12 kilogram box of the organic beauties sells for about $13 USD.
“Inside each room, we use the horizontal planting on shelves provided with special irrigation system and a fully-electronically controlled atmospheric system,” said Khreisheh, adding that “we have 10 workers who check the soil into the rooms and mix the fungal spores.”
There are another 15 female workers who work only on picking up the mature mushrooms. He said “with respect to men, we chose women to pick up the mushrooms because their hands are softer than men’s.” Employee Samah Abu Zeitoon is also a part time university student, she said, “I would certainly need money for education and for living, but also like the idea because it is my first time working in such an interesting farm.”
West Bank restaurants and grocery stores typically import their mushrooms from Israeli markets, specifying specific sizes for special types of recipes; however, Khreisheh aims to corner the market, “We just began production a few weeks ago, and we are sure that soon our products of mushrooms will compete [with imports].”
Samir Samara, director general in the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture, told Xinhua that his ministry encourages Amoro farm to achieve self-sufficiency, adding, “Once this farm is able to provide the local marker with the needed amounts of mushrooms, then I believe that our priority will be, to facilitate the export of such interesting kind of business that will certainly bring more benefits to the Palestinian economy.”
Image of fresh mushrooms from Shutterstock