Software engineer Shailesh Modak quit his 13-year career to successfully plant and grow saffron in a shipping container using hydroponics.

Bogged down by his 9-to-5 routine, Shailesh wanted to learn something new and emerge from the corporate way of life.

“I would come back after work and pick my wife’s brain saying that I don’t like my job. One day she just simply said ‘Itna mann hai toh karo’ (if you really want to do it, then take a chance).”

He recounts how he started.

“I was driving on the Mumbai-Pune highway, and on the radio, they were talking about how if honey bees die, the entire world would be at risk.”

This is where he got the idea of renting honey bees on farms for the purpose of pollination.

But this business wasn’t viable and Shailesh had to look out for other alternatives.

In 2018, he stumbled on the idea of hydroponics during research.

“I had heard of the technology, but it took me a lot of research, hours of browsing books and reading on the internet to truly understand it. I had figured that a plant only needs water, sun and nutrients to grow.”

Thus, he says, he came up with the idea of using shipping containers to develop controlled environments, where crops can be grown.

Talking about the benefits of hydroponics, he said, “Imagine a room full of plants with roots hanging in the air with no soil. Sounds amazing right?”

“Hydroponics has numerous benefits. Firstly, since the atmosphere is controlled, it can produce output year long. There is 95 percent less water wastage because there is no soil involved, and the process also helps in tackling pests.”

Initially, Shailesh grew crops like lettuce, strawberries, tomatoes, etc, but then moved on to cash crops like saffron.

“With months of research and spending time with saffron farmers, we were finally able to grow the spice in our 160 sq ft area container,” he says.

For his first crop, Shailesh was able to grow 875 grams of saffron. While he invested Rs 10 lakh for research and setting up the lab, he has already earned Rs 5 lakh in revenue.

“We keep getting calls from farmers and young people interested in agriculture to learn the technique. So we also want to help them and spread the technique,” he says about his future plans.