“I turned to farming for a different reason,” begins 43-year-old Pushpa Patel, a resident of Amalsad in Gujarat. “I wanted to find a way to be self-reliant after my marriage and having seen my farmer parents spend their life doing the job, I knew I could as well.”
This desire was further propelled by the death of her father and seeing her mother toil alone on the field pushed her to take up farming. She says that her brother was away from Gujarat and it was down to just her mother and her.
“I did not want to rely on traditional knowledge alone and therefore enrolled at the Agriculture University and learnt the various processes and techniques,” she says.
Today, Pushpa is a successful farmer growing chikoos, seasonal vegetables and also oyster mushrooms.
‘I enjoy being referred to as a farmer.’
“I feel a great sense of pride in being able to grow fruits and vegetables. I consider it to be a very noble occupation,” she says. While growing up even though Pushpa was keen on helping her parents, they insisted that she study and not be bothered by farm work. However, since her brother was working away from Gujarat, the onus of helping her mother fell on Pushpa and she couldn’t be happier.
“I started experimenting on a small portion of the land my parents tilled. One of the experiments that I felt very strongly about was to shift to organic farming. It is not just good for one’s health but also improves the soil conditions manifold,” she says. For a few years, the farm work was divided between Pushpa and her mother and after her mother’s demise, she says that her husband joined her.
She says, “My husband has a travelling job and due to COVID-19 there were several restrictions on it. He decided to start helping me and started enjoying farming. He then even took on to rent a portion of land where he started cultivating fruits and vegetables.”
While this was going well, Pushpa wanted to do more and that is how she chanced upon mushroom cultivation.
“Mushroom was not being grown by anyone in my village and was almost unheard of,” she says. Pushpa started growing mushrooms from one of the empty rooms in her home. “I would use the room to store all the farming supplies and that was converted into a room where I started growing the oyster mushroom,” she adds.
‘I started by distributing the mushrooms for free.’
Since there was a general lack of awareness about mushrooms, Pushpa says that initially, she would distribute the mushrooms among friends and family for free. “Since it was not something that people in this area had eaten before, they were not very pleased with it. In fact, no one even knew how to cook it. The challenge was to introduce mushrooms and make people like it,” she says.
For the first year, she suffered a loss but persisted because she felt there was a market for mushrooms. It was at an agricultural fair organised by the Agriculture University that helped her sell and market the mushrooms. She says “The fair was a turning point for me and after that, I got in touch with many buyers and also started making a good profit. This was the reason I decided to start the cultivation of mushrooms on a commercial scale. I started with an initial investment of Rs 15,000 and was happy when I recovered all of it in just one month.”
Speaking about the revenues that she makes, Pushpa says, “The return on investment (ROI) on cultivating mushrooms is great. I make more than Rs 12,000 every fortnight, so about Rs 24,000 a month just on the mushrooms.”
Not wanting to sell only oyster mushrooms, Pushpa started looking at other innovative ways and says that she often dries the mushrooms, makes them into flour and then uses it to make khakras.
A result of all this experimentation has been the increase in her revenue and she says that today she earns close to Rs 3.5 lakh a month. Not one to keep the knowledge to herself, Pushpa also started teaching others who were keen on learning at the university. “Mushroom farming is a great way to boost one’s regular earnings and many women who have come to learn have benefitted from it,” she says.
So far, Pushpa has trained over 60 women. Pinal Patel, a housewife until two years ago, has only positive things to say about Pushpa and all she has learnt from her. “Until I met Pushpa ji I was merely lending a helping hand to my husband in all the farm work. I did not think of myself as a farmer or of being capable of doing this by myself. Learning about mushroom cultivation and how it can be done from one room in the house was a huge bonus for me,” says Pinal.
She continues, “The training was excellent and today I earn close to Rs 10,000 a month, which I can call my own. That is what I take the most pride in.”
Pushpa is also a proud parent and tells me that her daughter is pursuing Dairy Technology (B.Tech.) living in Anand, while her son is pursuing a degree in computer engineering from Aravalli, Gujarat.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)