The entrepreneur in Jithu Joseph is guided by the internet, especially YouTube. Hailing from a farmer family in Piravom, Joseph has chosen mushroom cultivation and marketing as his calling.
“Though I grew up watching farming and related activities, I was interested in mushroom growing,” he said. “I learned how to grow mushroom from the internet. When I was a degree student, I watched a video of growing mushrooms in a bottle.”
The young man pursued it. He procured seeds and started growing mushrooms in a bottle in his bedroom. “Mushrooms grow in front of your eyes. It is fun watching them. That inspired me to start mushroom farming.”
Now an MSW graduate, Joseph views mushroom farming as social service. “People have a right to good food. Mushroom is a pure and natural food product. There is absolutely no fertilizers or pollutants involved in it. This venture is my way of discharging my social commitment as an individual. I am proud of it,” Joseph said.
Though Joseph has been researching in the field for nine years, he started it as a venture only four to five years ago. He started out by distributing his products in the shops in Piravom and surroundings. He used the time to study the quality differences of the product.
“That period helped me a lot in making the enterprise a success,” said Joseph, who now manages a supply network that stretches up to Tripunithura near Kochi.
The YouTube farm
Jospeh said that he drew his expertise largely from YouTube. “YouTube and social media have helped immensely in my experiments and my growth as an entrepreneur. I still learn a lot from YouTube videos. When you add the stuff you have learned from your own experience, it is sure to provide results.”
Jospeh collected various types of mushroom seeds and tried growing them. His bedroom was the initial laboratory and farm.
A V Mathews, who retired as dean from the Regional Agricultural Research Station at Kumarakom, was like a mentor to Joseph. The young farmer said that he benefited immensely from the weekly training sessions organised at the centre on Saturdays.
Joseph has since turned an evangelist for mushroom farming. He shares his experience in various forums. He now prepares the seeds in his own laboratory. The quality, he said, is reflected in the products. “The more quality you can ensure, the more will be your profit,” he said.
Jospeh’s “Leena’s Mushrooms” markets 30-35 kilos per day on average. The mushrooms are packed in 200 gram boxes and sold for Rs 70-75 per box. Mushrooms fetch a market price of Rs 350 per kilogram.
For every season
In the initial stages, mushroom production depended on the season. Not anymore, thanks to temperature regulation. The farms where temperature is kept at a specific point, mushroom production is stable through the year. The mushroom beds in a farm house have also been increased in number.
Joseph’s farm is designed to maximise production and profit by setting up as many beds at as little cost. He has been capable of increasing the number of beds up to five times to 5,000 by watching YouTube videos. He uses a variety of mediums to grow mushrooms, including hay, dried banana leaves, sugarcane byproducts and sawdust. Joseph prefers sawdust from rubber trees because of easy availability and lower cost. He collects the sawdust the day the wood is sawn and disinfects it before packing into beds. He spends only Rs 20 per bed because he prepares his own seeds.
The top varieties cultivated in Kerala are milky mushrooms and oyster mushrooms. They can be alternated, depending on the season, to ensure a steady market. Joseph has started growing oyster mushrooms the year round after he learned how to regulate temperature in the farm.
Joseph is helped by his mother Leena Thomas, and several neighbours. Leena has taught herself the tissue culture methods. Joseph said that the work does not demand high levels of technical knowledge. His neighbours help him to prepare beds and pack harvested mushrooms.
Joseph has set himself a target to produce 100 kilograms per day this year. He has started building four farm houses with 5,000 beds each.
Do it yourself
Joseph’s success as a mushroom producer is a model worth emulating. Anyone can try mushroom farming in modest spaces including a bedroom or a balcony. The investment is low and the returns decent.
Mushroom farming is relatively simple. But it is a wise thing to start modestly. You could learn the ropes in a reputed institution before venturing into it. At the same time, build your knowledge from other sources.
Then you could collect good seed varieties and start cultivating it. Forget about selling your products for the first six months. Just grow them to eat them. That way you would be an expert grower before you commit a steady supply. Choose cooler areas in your house to set up a few beds.
This trial period will help you understand your shortcomings and the challenges in the business. You will be able to solve them before you become a businessman. Once you are confident, increase the number of beds and start selling through your neighbourhood shops. Gradually you can increase production to industrial scale and rake in the moolah.