Walking through the monochromatic farms, I see the white fungi inviting me to spend the rest of my day with them. – Rahul Das
Karthik, a graduate in Civil Engineering left a comfortable job to pursue his dream of mushroom cultivation. Having started this venture in the fall of 2013, he now has 12 grow houses spread across his half-acre land and his product is sent throughout the country. He has successfully repaid his loans and is running a profitable business currently.
I wondered what he was doing differently and so decided to meet him to find out how he grows his edible fungi and also successfully sustain it over the years. As I walked into this monochromatic mushroom farm I was told that Karthik was busy with some DIY hack to create a controlled temperature at the grow house.
The rooms are dimly lit and have just one tube light. Practically everybody in this farm has learnt to work in the dark. While I was pondering over this I heard a voice call out my name. I squinted my eyes to find Karthik and saw him perched on the ledge below the roof, trying to spread a huge tarpaulin on the top.“When temperatures drop to single digits we are on our toes, literally,” he said, balancing himself on the bamboo ledge trying to tuck the tarpaulin by harnessing it around the bamboo support. I was impressed straightaway with what was going on there and it occurred to me that I should do a story about this.
Karthik has a team of five women working at the mushroom grow-house who apart from doing composting and cropping also help Karthik in improving the facilities at the farm and in implementing various sustainable methods.
When you see Karthik, he looks so unassuming; doesn’t give you the impression that he is the owner of a huge grow house. He single-handedly takes care of the entire farm, from operations, to techniques, to distribution and being the employer.
“When you start something, it becomes like your child. You have to nurture and take care of it. Only then does it become a full-fledged human being” he chuckled, when I commented that he looks like a workaholic.
Why does he keep the grow units covered, despitebeing indoors? I asked in curiosity.
“Winters can be really harsh and the night temperature can dip to as low as 2 degrees. I need a minimum temperature of 21 degrees in order to start with the pasteurization phase which is basically sterilizing with heat”, he said.
In order to protect the mushrooms and increase the temperature in the grow house, Karthik figured out a few DIY hacks. He has installed a generator and heaters with a fiber tunnel-tube, which keeps the room warm. But with temperatures dropping at night, Karthik decided to cover up the grow units like a shell from top to bottom with tarpaulins and a few thermal sheets. This,he figures, will help control the temperature inside.
When asked about the impact of climate change, he said, “If we are disrupting the plains around us by forcefully constructing concrete jungles and polluting the environment, this is nature’s way to tell us to stop. There are lots of unusual topographic shifts happening and we are either ignorant about it or we aren’t too well educated about it.When I started off there was not a single house here, now it’s 2019 and you can see for yourself. We are on the path of development, apparently”.
He continued. “Climate change is a real thing, people need to be educated on that. My grow house is made of recyclable material, scrap and bamboos.”
When quizzed about how he ran the farm, Karthik said, “This farm is run by the women, who are the pillars of support. We work like a collective. We have weekly meetings where the women talk about various techniques to improve the production. It is amazing to see the amount of effort they put in. I had a group of men when I started initially. I feel these women have surpassed them.” Karthik said.
“Women should enjoy the same rights as men do and I feel in employing these women, I’m enabling them to lead an empowered life and learn what the world has to offer,” Karthik added.
It was closing time and everybody was preparing to leave for the day. Karthik looked content with the effort that went in during the dayand so I decided to ask him about the business.
“We produce 1500 kilograms of mushrooms with every harvest, which is a 60 – 70 days’ process and we don’t want to be behind the cycleat any stage due to any unforeseen circumstances. We believe in solving problems, rather than brood over them and imagine about things which are beyond our control,” he said.
When asked how he would sustain the work he has been doing he had a crisp answer. “I’m clear on my wants and needs and I don’t invest in things that I don’t want. Farming makes me happy and moreover, empowering people makes me happier. What else can I ask for, from this life”?
I was happy that I met Karthik. His larger than life perspective is an inspiration to look up to.
Rahul Das, born in Kolkata but a Hyderabadi by heart. He has graduated from Loyola and later pursued photography at Light and Life Academy, Ooty.
Even before getting into the field of experimental photography, he worked as a journalist & content creator with various companies like Times of India, Uber and Telangana Today.
Since his graduation, he has been experimenting with lights, moods and concepts.
His forte is live lights setup without having to edit the pictures post, his experimentation with the same shows a detailed knowledge of colour theory and light theory, all thanks to his teachers at Light & Life Academy.
He uses photography and cinematography as a medium of visual storytelling in his present work to capture the essence of the subject.
He is majorly inspired from film photography, precolonial paintings, noir, new age independent films and photographers like, Ansel Adams, Renan Ozturk, Ryan Muirhead& Mr. Iqbal Mohamed.