Ernakulam native Jithu Thomas was only 19 years old when he first sowed some mushroom seeds in a packet. It was his favourite pastime with his mother those days and by the passage of time, his interest multiplied.
“I used to read a lot regarding mushroom farming and when I went online my research became much easier,” says the 31-year-old farmer. “Today, amma (mother) and I manage a 5,000 square feet farm space and a lab area near our house in Piravom where 80-100 kg of mushroom is produced every day. Our daily earning is Rs 35,000-40,000.”
Leena’s Mushroom Farm was incorporated four years back and Jithu says that employing scientific methods made them successful within a short span of time. The duo’s farm overcame two floods and the pandemic without a major downfall in sales because of proper planning.
“Mushrooms need a controlled climate to grow where the temperature shouldn’t fall under 30 degrees celsius. Installation of a proper cooling system is therefore significant. We have designed the room and its settings in such a way that around 20,000 beds can be positioned in a space where usually only 5,000 beds are placed,” explains Jithu.
Mushroom or nothing
Jithu completed his graduation in Physics and post-graduation in Social Work. For some years after course completion, he worked for an NGO as a social entrepreneur. During all these years, mushroom farming was just a side business. When he realised the potential of this cultivation and its demand in the local market, he turned into a full-time farmer.
“I have always encouraged his interest in farming and now looks after the whole space as well as staff. Incorporating new techniques and disaster management are his area of expertise,” says 55-year-old Leena.
Jithu has attended a one-day workshop conducted by Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Kumarakom. Except that, no other formal training was received. “Even though mushroom farming is widespread in the country, it is more popular in foreign lands where a cooler climate prevails. So while performing it in our weather conditions, customisation is very much necessary,” says Jithu, adding, “I’ve designed the farm myself.”
There are 11 staff at Leena’s, all of whom are women from the neighbourhood. The produce is made into packets of 200 g and distributed among local vegetable shops, supermarkets and bakeries within a 30 km radius. The price of one packet is Rs 80. It must be used within two days if placed in the open air and can last up to five days if refrigerated. The duo share that their produce is never wasted as there is a stable market for mushrooms in Kerala.
“There are many advantages to mushroom farming including its less growing period. But that doesn’t mean it is an easy task. The crop is fragile and extremely sensitive. A minute change in temperature or the advent of pests can ruin the crop completely,” warns the farmer.
In addition to mushrooms, their seeds are also sold to other farmers. Jithu also provides short-term training to newcomers in the field for government institutions. Free online and offline training is also given to interested farmers. “At least 1,000 people have attended my classes so far but I am not sure how many took up farming later,” he adds.
Jithu shares some tips on starting a mushroom farm at home:
- Picking good quality seeds is the first and most important step. You can either purchase directly from experienced growers or try the ones available on e-commerce sites.
- Oyster mushrooms are the best, to begin with. It gives quick results and a reasonable quantity.
- Always begin on a small scale basis. Pick your house’s corridor or balcony as the location.
- Consider the first six months as the trial period. Level up only after that when you feel it’s manageable and profitable.
- Watch YouTube videos regarding mushroom farming. Also, try to attend a daily/weekly workshop/training arranged by nearby government institutions.
Edited by Yoshita Rao