Rich in Vitamin B, mushrooms have always been an excellent way to build a diet full of protein, fibre and minerals. In recent years, many urban gardeners have turned to mushroom gardening because it needs less space, is easy to grow and of course, reaps better returns.
For Clint Davis, an MSc (Microbiology) student, growing mushrooms professionally sprung from a project he worked on during his undergraduate course. In 2017, during his BSc third year at the JSS Academy of Higher Education and Research, Mysuru, he decided to pursue his final year project on creating wine out of mushrooms.
“This got a lot of recognition because it was something unique and unheard of; you could say that was the turning point for me,” says the 24-year-old.
Three years down the line, he now manages his organic mushroom startup Fungo Mushrooms and earns upto Rs 3, 50,000 every three months!
So how did a college student set up a mushroom business in just three years?
Starting Out In A 250 Sq Ft Rented Room
“I first saw the different kinds of innovation used in agriculture and farming when I visited my uncle’s agricultural start-up, GYO Foods, back in 2015. He had an aquaponics and hydroponics section, microgreen cultivation along with different kinds of mushrooms. That’s when I really got a better understanding of the technology and technique behind several farming methods which got me interested,” says Clint.
Once he had been successful with his third-year project, the possibility of pursuing mushroom cultivation started looming around Clint’s mind. He shared his idea with his roommate, Ajay Jose, studying for Emergency Medicine from the same college. Ajay, coming from a family of farmers decided to support Clint and together they decided to grow mushrooms and sell it in the market.
“When we explored the market, we realised that there was a huge gap for organic mushrooms in Mysuru. All they sold was ‘button mushrooms’ which were completely filled with chemicals and preservatives,” explains Ajay.
The duo took this as a golden opportunity and set up a 250 sq.ft rented room with almost 300 bags of mushroom seeds.
Using basic materials like ropes and plastic bags to fill the seeds in, the duo hung the bags filled with straw and oyster mushroom seeds in the room and decided to experiment.
“By then word spread, and one of my juniors, Raj Kiran who was also interested in mushroom cultivation, decided to join us and help us out with the venture,” says Clint.
“We sourced all the other materials like paddy straws and mushroom seeds (spawns) from a nearby horticulture centre and browsed through several YouTube channels to see how it was done. Honestly, since it was on an experimental basis, we didn’t have much expectation,” he adds.
After 25 days of the spawn running period, the bags were brimming with mushrooms and altogether, they had produced around 10 kg of mushrooms in one go.
“That was it. Seeing that tiny room fill up with mushrooms was the only green signal we needed to take the next step,” explains Ajay Jose.
Adding Their Twist
After cultivating oyster mushrooms, the team realised that their shelf life was only upto 3-4 days, which wasn’t good enough to sell in the market.
“So we decided to step up our game and set aside 525 sq.ft area with a shed for cultivation. This time, we started trying out milky mushrooms which had a slight variation in its procedure but had a shelf life of upto 10 days – a great benefit to us,” explains Clint.
“We also started looking into sustainable packaging options and finally decided to use biodegradable sugarcane trays so that the product as a whole would be organic,” he adds.
But when the venture started expanding, money became a problem. The group started pooling in their pocket money and even took part-time jobs like catering and delivery jobs to raise an initial investment of about Rs 5 lakhs.
“One of our friends pawned some gold jewellery, to help us raise funds. But after the first investment, everything started to fall into place,” explains Ajay Jose. The group also used several innovations to save money, like creating their own humidifier and even a temperature regulating fan.
“The incubation space has to be maintained at a temperature between 25 to 28-degree celsius. So, we connected two exhaust fans with a circuit connected to a thermostat. The fan will automatically switch on and off according to the temperature readings,” explains Clint.
TBI got in touch with one of their suppliers at The Royal World Market, Mysuru who says, “I’ve opted for Fungo Mushrooms because it is cultivated organically and unlike the regular button mushrooms available in the market, they cultivate milky mushrooms which are bigger and are more fleshy, making it a great alternative to meat as well.”
“The process behind mushroom cultivation is very simple as long as you are hygienic and patient,” Clint emphasises.
Here are the basic steps to follow when you’re starting out:
- You’ll have to start the procedure by sterilising the straw.
- When the straw is completely dry, you’ll have to distribute it into strong plastic bags (transparent) along with the mushroom seeds. Make sure that the seeds are evenly distributed in the bag.
- Close the bags in a way that it’s air-tight and there’s no room for moisture to enter.
- Once the bag is closed, make around 10-15 holes in each bag.
- Place these bags in a dark empty closet or wardrobe at 25 degrees Celcius for 15-20 days until the entire bag turns white.
- If there is any other colour formation, you’ll have to dispose of the bag and start over.
- In the second stage of cultivation, you’ll have to introduce humidity to the bags.
- For this step, you need to keep the bags in your balcony and spray them with water for 4-5 times every day until the mushrooms start sprouting.
- To remove the sprouted mushrooms, twist them individually from their roots and pluck them.
Where They Are Now
Today, ‘Fungo Mushrooms’ produces upto 1,000 kg of mushroom every three months and sells it at Rs 350/kg, with the profit being about Rs 230/kg. The team also recently received the first runner up award for the ‘Student Driven Sustainability Project of the Year’ award by the Triple E Awards in the Asia Pacific region, competing with 350 other universities.
“What started out as a simple experiment, turned out to be a business venture. And we were able to do it along with our studies. I think that has to be our biggest achievement. Currently, we are looking for ways to enter the e-commerce world and even have plans to create products from mushrooms like pickles, powders and even wine,” Clint concludes.
You can reach out to Clint at +91 85903 40605
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)
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