In 2016, Professor Nidhi Katare got to know that her college premises would soon be demolished. This came as a huge, unexpected shock to her.

“When this college was being built, I was entrusted with setting up the science laboratories from scratch. But when the authorities got good money for the campus land, they had it demolished,” she says.

“The campus was reduced to ruins in front of me. It seemed like a decade of my work was wasted. This is when I decided to invest my time and energy in something that I can call my own,” she adds.

As part of the syllabus at the college, she would teach mushroom cultivation to her students. So, she decided to utilise the knowledge and started a business in mushroom farming.

With Rs 3,000, she bought 10 kg of oyster mushroom spawns and cultivated mushrooms in a 10×10 sq ft room. But she got a 30 percent less yield.

Initially, Nidhi was dependent on cultivators from Agra and Delhi to procure mushroom spawns. She observed that the quality of the spawns she sourced was poor.

So, she decided to grow mushroom spawns on her own. Nidhi used her ancestral house of 1,500 sq ft to set up a lab with dedicated rooms for incubation, inoculation, and pasteurisation.

Explaining how she grows the spawns, Nidhi says, “First, we boil wheat and barley straws. Then we sterilise them with fungicides.”

“We then pack them into small packets and add them into autoclaves for sterilisation. After incubation using the mother spawn, we store the packets for six to seven days.”

In the process, a white-coloured fungus gets layered over the wheat grain. That is how spawns are prepared, she adds.

Nidhi uses these spawns to cultivate oyster mushrooms throughout the year. Today, she gets a yield of up to 150 kg of mushrooms every two months.

By selling fresh and sun-dried mushrooms, its spawns and products like mushroom papads, pickles, biscuits, and protein powder, she earns Rs 1.5 lakh per month.

For Nidhi, the business helped her feel empowered. “Today, I am not dependent on any private institute. I have been able to establish something for myself,” she adds.