Near Playa Leona in the district of La Chorrera, one can find the first plant in Panama growing portobello, crimini and champignon edible mushrooms, twelve months of the year, using state-of-the-art technology and in compliance with the highest standards of sustainable production.
Cultivating and marketing mushrooms in the tropical climate of Panama, added to the fact that mushrooms have not traditionally been a popular ingredient in local cuisine, certainly is not the easiest route, but a commitment to development and sustainability that, for Agrícola La Lomita, is well worth it.
La Lomita is a family business, of Italo-Venezuelan origin, which set out to develop something unique in the country back in 2013, the year in which the company was founded.
Hugo Pineda is the Plant Manager of Agrícola La Lomita, where a non-negotaible policy was very clear from day one: natural production, that is, without any type of chemicals or pesticides and based on temperature, humidity and water.
According to Pineda, growing and harvesting high quality mushrooms is an operation that involves various stages that require not only specific components and environmental factors, but also time and attention to detail: from the care of the inoculated substrate that is brought from Holland in strict control of its cold chain, to constantly monitoring the cultivation beds to ensure adequate humidity and temperature conditions … a lot goes into the cultivation of mushrooms in a clean and safe environment.
In addition, cultivation and grow happens in a relatively fast cycle: fifteen days pass from the incubation of the compost to production; each piece of compost will give up to three buds of fungi. Once the mushrooms have matured, harvest begins and the mushrooms are classified according to their type and size, a work done by completely hand by the staff of La Lomita.
Pineda explains that the portobello, portobellini and cremini mushroom is actually the same type of fungus (brown fungus), but its harvest is done at different stages of growth to achieve the desired differences not only in size, but also in taste.
A laboratory established at the City of Knowledge provides an essential service to La Lomita: Sedicomvet Internacional Corp specializes in quality assurance analysis and contributes its expertise in physicochemical analysis necessary for production.
According to Dr. José Riera, Director of Sedicomvet, “the analysis of the physicochemical properties of food is one of the main aspects in the assurance of its quality.” The analisis carried out in the Sedicomvet facilities at the City of Knowledge from the samples collected in La Lomita, play a very important role in the control of the parameters required by health agencies and industrial standards such as the Panamanian Commission for Industrial and Technical Standards (COPANIT, for its acronym in Spanish). “The analysis is necessary to ensure that the product is suitable for human consumption and to ensure that they meet the characteristics and composition expected of them,” he says.
Thus, La Lomita currently produces approximately 7,000 kilos of mushrooms per week, however the plant has a capacity to produce twice the current national market demand. According to Pineda, the increase in future production will depend on the demand and national consumption of mushrooms, which is why they constantly seek to encourage it.
On the other hand, consumption of mushrooms is growing gradually in Panama, currently hovering around 176 tons per year and although traditionally the mushrooms consumed in Panama are exported, La Lomita mushrooms are 100% Panamanian.