Truong Son’s mushrooming female veterans

In Khanh Cu Commune of Yen Khanh District, Ninh Binh Province, there is a mushroom company owned and managed by female veterans of 559 Army Corps, one of the units that took part in the construction of the legendary Truong Son trail (also known as the Ho Chi Minh trail) during wartime.

One of many mushroom products by female veterans

Pham Thi Cuc, chairwoman of the Board of Directors, is a war invalid.

She recalled, “In October 1973, I was transferred to 473 Division under 559 Army Corps. A few months later, I triggered some of the mines laid at Ta Con Airport in Quang Tri Province and was severely wounded. I was then transported to the North for treatment. After recovering, I volunteered to return to the battlefields and was assigned the tasks of a clerk in the office of 559 Army Corps.”

The deputy chairwoman of the Board of Directors, Pham Thi Thai, joined the army in August 1973 and became an engineer. She was famous for being able to break four cubic meters of rocks into pieces daily. The rocks were used for making roads in Truong Son.

According to Cuc, the company has more than 100 employees and they were all Truong Son soldiers, who had sacrificed their youth to the cause of independence and freedom. Among them, sixty percent are war invalids and veterans suffering from disabilities or sicknesses caused by wounds they received during the war.

Cuc narrated, “To create a close relationship among female veterans who survived bomb raids and fierce battles, in 1985 I and some other comrades thought about setting up an association for Truong Son female veterans. The idea was immediately backed by the leaders of the People’s Committee of Ninh Binh Province.

“On the day when we first gathered together in a ceremony to mark the foundation of the association,” said Cuc, “we could do nothing but embrace one another, crying. Each one has her own story, but most of us had been badly affected, spiritually and physically, by consequences of war.

“Many of them gave birth to children who turned out to be A/O victims, others were enduring disabilities or chronicle diseases. There was a bitter truth that most of us were not only in bad health but also poor. We didn’t have funds to start any kind of business.”

To help the female veterans to escape poverty, the secretary of Yen Khanh District Party Committee recommended they set up a mushroom farm. He drove Cuc to Hung Yen, Thai Binh, to visit a number of mushroom farms so that she could learn how to grow mushrooms.

After the trip, Cuc and some of her comrades established the July 27 Mushroom Cooperative.

Cuc recalled, “The cooperative would’ve not had its debut if we hadn’t received valuable assistance from many people. To help us getting some money as starting funds, Mr. Dinh Van Hung, Secretary of Ninh Binh Province’s Party Committee, appealed for all the employees in his organization to donate one day’s salary to the cooperative. The Khanh Hong Commune Elderly People’s Association lent us ten hectares of deserted land.”

To make the land available for a mushroom farm, hundreds of female veterans chopped down trees, cut grass and set up thatch-roofed camps and huts. What they did was not much different to what they had done in Truong Son a decade previously.

There after, Cuc then went to the Hanoi Biotechnology Plant to buy mushroom spores for cultivation.

In the beginning, the war heroines only produced a few kinds of mushroom that are widely used in Vietnamese families’ daily meals, like Straw mushrooms, Moodeer and Enoki, and supplied to markets. Later, they grew other kinds of mushrooms that are indispensable ingredients for special dishes in restaurants, such as Shiitake and Chinese black mushrooms.

Cuc said, “In 1995, we decided to turn the cooperative into T&B Joint – Stock Company owing to our flourishing business. The company at the time had a registered capital of VND300,000 owned by 16 shareholders. It had some 100 employees. “

To give encouragement to the heroines of the war, Ninh Binh Province authorities offered more help by leasing out 4,000 square meters of land at a low price. After 14 years in operation, the company now has total assets of VND 3.5 billion.

Cuc said, “We must say thanks to valuable assistance from Prof. Nguyen Lan Dung, a very famous biologist of Vietnam. He does not only give us advice related to mushroom growing techniques, but also helps us grow various kinds of agricultural crops that have high economic value like sweet corn, Taiwanese papayas, baby tomatoes and Japanese sweet potatoes. “

At present, the company is supplying seven different kinds of mushroom to the market, including Lingzhi mushroom. The T&B brand’s produce are widely known by restaurants and supermarkets in Hanoi.

“What the company needs now,” said Cuc, “is a subsidized loan of VND500 million from the government to transform our thatch-roofed huts into concrete offices.”

Cuc said, “We are now satisfied with our achievements after years of making every effort. The only dream we have now is some day in the coming future, when our business is doing well and we have surplus money, we will build a house where we will display souvenirs, objects and belongings of female soldiers who used to fight in fierce battles in Truong Son or who had fallen there.” 

By Van Phuc Hau – Translated by Phuong Lan

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