For locals in the southern part of Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, eating mushrooms is not a traditional practice. But Nurmemet Ihetiwakhi, a villager in Karakax county of Hotan prefecture, is a new fan to shiitakes as the edible fungi is used to cook up a better life.
His family used to rely on livestock breeding and walnut planting for a living. Walnut trees, a major source of income for locals, can be seen almost everywhere in southern Xinjiang, but profit margins have been dwindling due to overcapacity.
It never occurred to Nurmemet Ihetiwakhi that the walnut trees' trimmed branches and trunks could be a new source of income.
Walnut wood is purchased, shattered and turned into mushroom sticks by Xinjiang Shushanglaojun Mushroom Industry Co Ltd, a locally headquartered company that started shiitake cultivation in late 2019.
The dry climate in southern Xinjiang and lignin-rich walnut mushroom sticks make shiitakes compact and tasty, which sell well in other parts of the region, said the company's chairman Yin Jinyao.
To expand production and help boost the local economy, the company inked cooperation agreements with local villagers to offer them mushroom sticks and cultivation training, and purchase their shiitakes at a fixed price.
Nurmemet Ihetiwakhi was one of the first to sink his teeth into the shiitake cultivation business after an organized trip to central China's mushroom breeding hub Henan Province earlier this year.
Now he runs two mushroom greenhouses, each hosting 2,000 mushroom sticks. He is expected to rake in 12,000 yuan (about $1,712) from each greenhouse this year. "They are easy to manage and won't take up much of my time," he said.
Currently, more than 3,000 mushroom greenhouses have been built across the county, and the number is likely to hit 6,000 by the end of 2020, according to Yin.
Nurmemet Ihetiwakhi has developed a taste for shiitakes after four months of mushroom breeding. "It's good for your health, and more importantly, adds to our wealth."