In 1998, Shanoob Vazhakkad, then 22, heard that his neighbour had died due to cancer.

His family said that the neighbour had a special diet with exotic vegetables and mushrooms to help with their condition, but they couldn’t always get mushrooms because they were hard to find and often pricey.

“Mushrooms were rarely cultivated in my area back then. I didn’t know they could save lives and reduce the risk of serious health conditions. When I found out about it, I wanted to make the item easily accessible to everyone,” he says.

With this motivation, Shanoob began the cultivation of milky mushrooms in 100 beds in his house.

“It costs just Rs 70 to prepare a mushroom bed. Even though June to December is the right time to grow mushrooms, by maintaining the right temperature inside the room, one can harvest the fungi all through the year,” he says.

Presently, he is in the process of building a brand that sells not only mushrooms, but also value-added products like soup mix, pickles, chammanthi podi, and more. Shanoob, who says he sells an average of 80 mushroom packets a day, shares the process of making a mushroom bed:

– Fill water in a large container and soak the main ingredient i.e. dried paddy straw for up to 18 hours. – Next, half-dry them by spreading them on a sheet under sunlight. Make sure that the sheets are clean.

– Take a vessel half filled with water and place the half-dried straw over it in another vessel. This is to ensure that, when heated, only the vapour touches the straw. – Steam the straw for around 45 minutes, then let it cool.

- Take a clean and transparent polythene cover with average measurements of  30 cm width, 60 cm height and 30 gauge width, to fill the straws in a circular shape. Sanitise the cover and your hands before filling.

– Add a set of mushroom seeds on top of the straw layer. Make three to four layers of straw and seeds, and tie the cover with a rubber band. – Make small holes all over the cover to ensure air circulation. – Place the bed in a place that is dark, cold, and has air circulation.

– Water the bed using a sprinkler every alternate day. Maintain the room temperature below 20 degrees Celsius. – Around 600 g to 1 kg of mushrooms can be harvested from a bed for at least two days per week.

Look out for flies, mosquitoes or any other insects from time to time, whicah will otherwise poison the harvest.