Straws in the wind. Banana mushrooms on the bed

clip_image002MANILA: New Year, new resolve. Options and opportunities. For our coop, Nagkaisa. For you and yours.

At the newly designated Asingan People's Center, which since time immemorial we have always referred to as the Danggay Building, in the morning of 16 January 2013, we had a special General Assembly (GA) meeting of our multi-purpose coop Nagkaisa, a move that I would like to refer to as Occupy Danggay, to put some order into the disorder of facilities, to discuss important matters, and to prepare for a month's leave of absence of the Chair, Roger Daranciang, who with his wife Lita, both members of Nagkaisa, are visiting their children and grandchildren starting end of the month. It will be a working visit. While in San Diego, Roger & Lita will try and convince more Fil-Ams to donate more for medical missions this year as well as invest in Nagkaisa, which we registered recently. We have to serve the people, especially those who cannot serve back.

It was at this meeting that the Chair informed us that the Sangguniang Bayan of Asingan has passed the resolution officially assigning the name Asingan People's Center to the building as well as designating Nagkaisa as its Administrator. The People's Center is for the legitimate and appropriate use, following guidelines, by duly registered and recognized non-government organizations with no political agenda. That is important to note with the elections in May, less than 4 months away. We have to support the NGOs.

The Chair also informed us that he has submitted a letter he signed as the new President of the Farmers Livestock School group of Pangasinan expressing full support of Governor Amado T Espino who is facing charges of plunder. Gov Espino has been very supportive of the efforts of concerned senior citizens of Asingan to increase opportunities for livelihood for the people of the town. We have to support our friends.

It was announced that the target date of the opening of the Nagkaisa Convenience Store is Monday, 28 January 2013. Noting the date, I announced that I would be ready to conduct a workshop on the conduct of meetings in the afternoon. I recommended and it was approved that coop members be required to attend. I know that all Nagkaisa officers needed the workshop since I have seen none of them familiar with Robert's Rules of Order and I know that I am, having been trained 50 years ago as an officer of the Future Farmers of the Philippines (FFP) at the College of Agriculture of the University of the Philippines. The FFP is gone but not my knowledge of parliamentary procedures. Practice makes perfect. I am 72; age doesn't matter!

Among other things, the ladies swept the floor of the building anew and the gentlemen had the lock of the door to the airconed room changed to a new one. We also investigated the inside. The room has some old pieces of equipment that may still be serviceable: 1 desktop computer, 1 monitor, 3 printers, 1 electric typewriter, and a shelf full of children's books. This was the office used years ago by Senator Letecia Ramos-Shahani for her Danggay Foundation. The People's Center had been constructed with funds from her office, Danggay being dedicated to the empowerment of the women of her own hometown Asingan by financially assisting them in producing handicraft, clothing etc. The production processes were all successful; their marketing was not. Buyers beware, producers too!

As for projects, for us current coop members, the Chair pointed out the income-earning option of acquiring farm machineries from government at 10% of the actual cost under a usufruct arrangement. We accepted that at face value.

On a special note, the first Affiliate member of Nagkaisa is Rufino Roque who along with his wife Soledad is the owner of the El Primero Hotel in the City of Chula Vista, San Diego County in California. I paid for him from the money he had given me the last time I saw him in Manila.

After the meeting, I invited myself to the bamboo hut (and the nice bed) at Vice Chair Sonny & Venus Sales' place because they have WiFi and, since the SmartBro cell site is only about 1 km away, behind the Roman Catholic church, the signal is excellent. We had a nice dinner and I was struck by the large banana mushrooms on the dining table. Sonny said they were raised by Robert, who was living a few meters away from the house, also amid mango trees heavy with flowers. That was when I remembered my father Lakay Disiong used to grow mushrooms the natural way after every harvest of the summer mungbean crop in between the plantings of rice in those irrigated fields at the back of the village in Sanchez. I remembered the mushrooms as good-looking, luscious, delicious morsels, and the soup that they gave was thick, tangy, and tasted like heaven.

So I said to Sonny, let's talk to Robert in the morning and I will suggest how to use the empty pods of mungbean, after threshing the seeds out, for raising the banana mushroom (also called rice straw mushroom). I don't like the oyster mushrooms being grown and sold everywhere - they're tasteless. It turned out that Robert already knew what I knew, and he knew even more. But he was using old, dry banana leaves as his mushroom beds, not cut banana stems with empty mungbean pods – nobody plants mungbean around town. That’s why his mushrooms are not as tasty as the ones I remember my father used to raise in the backyard at Sanchez. So, I insist on the empty mungbean pods and banana for the mushroom bed.

Question: If you grow mungbean for the grains as food and the empty pods to throw into a banana bed to grow mushrooms on, how many crops are you raising? That's multiple cropping; in fact, you are growing 3 crops. Since this is a technology without a name, I will now give it a name: MBM Technology.

Surprisingly, come to think of it now, there are 5 advantages of the MBM Technology:

(1) To ensure your supply of quality raw materials, you have to plant 3 crops yourself. Each of the crops is your hedge against crop failure: mungbean, banana, mushroom.

(2) You have actually 8 sources of income: mungbean seeds, mungbean stalks, empty mungbean pods, banana, spent banana stalks, young & fresh banana leaves, old & dry banana leaves, and mushroom - the empty pods, banana stalks and leaves are either bought by you (cost of production) or sold to other mushroom growers. Don't throw your trash to the fire; throw them to the mushrooms.

(3) You are cutting costs of production, because you are using crop refuse (empty pods, mungbean stalks, spent banana stems, fresh and old banana leaves, even rice straws you otherwise burn) to produce a 3rd crop. Don't throw you straws to the fire; throw them to the mushrooms.

(4) You have a multiplier effect. When your mushroom business becomes big, you will be encouraged or you will encourage people to grow more mungbean and banana, not to mention mushroom, contributing to the local economy.

(5) You can grow mushrooms throughout the year with proper beds under the trees. Under MBM technology, the mungbean, the source of food for the mushrooms, can be grown during both the dry and wet seasons in the Philippines (Hilario's Abstracts, blogspot.com). Even better, as shown in the national experience of Thailand, mungbean can be grown 3 times a year, from May to July, August to November, and January to April (uncapsa.org).

While waiting for the mushrooms to grow, let's go back to the minutes of the meeting: On other matters, as I write these lines, I have actually prepared the written materials for me to conduct a workshop on "How To Conduct A Meeting" on the afternoon of 28 January after the opening of our convenience store. I have the complete agenda for the meeting for use in the workshop, the list including progress reports and proposals.

The main lessons I would like to impart during the workshop on the conduct of meetings are the following:

(1) The Chair opens the meeting by formally announcing, "The meeting will please come to order." This looks funny in writing but it is absolutely necessary that the beginning of the meeting be declared with authority. We mean business in every formal meeting. In a meeting, everybody wants to speak. The Chair will have to hush everybody to get to business.

(2) A generic invocation follows, for both Catholics and non-Catholics. (Sorry for non-believers.) If you lived in the United States, you could be charged in court for violating the law that separates the Church from the State, whatever. The invocation is not a formal part of any meeting, but we Filipinos like to innovate, you know.

(3) Everyone signs the attendance sheet.

(4) "The Secretary will now read the minutes of the previous meeting." (The minutes that I have prepared is very brief, as every minutes should be; they should only touch on the essentials. How to prepare brief minutes is one of the lessons I have in the conduct of meetings.) A copy of the minutes is provided to each of the members. The entries must have line numbers for faster reference and correction as necessary. The Chair will ask those present, "Any corrections?" A correction may be proposed, pointing to the exact line number. The Chair asks, "Are we all agreed? Then the correction is hereby made." The Chair recognizes any other who calls for correction or clarification. "Yes, you have the floor, Sir/Madam (or the familiar name of the person)." After clarification, the Chair says, "If there are no objections, the correction is made." And so on until all appropriate corrections are made.

(5) Matters Arising - The Chair announces, "We now go to Matters Arising." Matters arising are follow-ups of any agreement, assignment, proposal or action taken based on the minutes of the previous meeting, or some other circumstances. What is usually called for is a progress report. For example, if the item is a call for a progress report on the convenience store project, the Chair will announce, "The Vice Chair will now report on the latest developments regarding the convenience store." Members may ask for more information or clarification, and the Chair must acknowledge each one of them. If further action is required, the Chair opens the floor for discussion. He is supposed to be neutral, so he does not discuss himself; he calls for people to discuss. If he finds it necessary for himself to discuss, he must yield the Chair to the Vice Chair, who then presides over the meeting.

(6) Agenda for the Meeting - This is a list of the actual matters planned for discussion and action in the current meeting.

It happens that the first item in the agenda is the proposed mushroom project. The Chair calls for the project proponent to explain further the proposal; with printed copies, 5 minutes should be enough. The Chair then says, "I now open for discussion the proposed mushroom project to be financed by the coop. You have a maximum of 2 minutes to present your side, for or against." The Chair emphasizes that time is being limited so that everyone can speak their mind. So, somebody should be noting the time. If someone talks longer than 2 minutes, the Chair gently reminds the speaker, "Your time is up, sorry. Next speaker please."

If someone speaks within the allotted time but of a topic not related to the matter at hand, the Chair gently reminds the speaker, "You may be right, but that is not related to the topic we are discussing. We can discuss that after the meeting. Next speaker, please!"

If someone argues heatedly or resorts to name-calling, the Chair immediately says, "Sorry, I will have to stop you there. Please don't get personal. Any comments from the others?"

If there is disagreement on any matter under discussion, the Chair says to each side, "Please explain your side." After a sufficient length of time, if both sides seem strong in their opposite or different positions, the Chair now announces, "I call for a division of the house." Voting follows.

(7) Other Matters - If a new proposal is made, a new point is raised, or a new comment submitted, the Chair says, "Any comments from the floor?" Anyone is allowed to speak for or against the proposal, point or comment.

Did you notice? We began with a meeting and ended up with another meeting. In a democracy - and a practice of the coop itself is a practice of democracy - actions are necessary; meetings are necessary too, and they have to be properly conducted, with the rights of everyone respected - even when you're only discussing how to grow mushrooms on beds.

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