Will you buy my ‘flowers’?
This is not a worry for Renuka Priyadarshini, 33, in marketing the “Bim-Mal” (mushrooms) she grows in the darkened little shed in her own backyard in Lunuwilawatte, Galle.
Renuka, a mother of two boys aged eight and three, not only runs the thriving self-employment cultivation of mushrooms to augment the family income, but also looks after home and hearth.
Learning the art of mushroom cultivation through an NGO programme for the empowerment of women, Renuka has been in business for nearly 10 years, selling blooming mushrooms packeted well with label and all. A packet is priced at Rs. 30, but soon she may have to increase it to Rs. 35 because the price of the raw materials keeps rising, she admits.
Renuka makes the process seem easy. She puts together a mixture of wood and rice shavings, triposha, ground Mung (green gram), adds magnesium and calcium carbonate and water and then packs it into a barrel and for two-and-a-half hours bakes it with steam.
When the mixture comes out, she lets it cool for 24 hours, sows the mushroom seeds she buys from the “import office” in Galle, packs it into small “polythene baskets” and stacks them in the darkened room. “It needs to be dark for the Bim-Mal to flower,” she explains, proudly showing the “flowers” of her labour.
After 28 days, the harvesting can begin, with the mushrooms being cut when they bloom and along with them the layer which has yielded them, continuing until no mixture is left. “There is a big demand from the shops close by,” Renuka smiles, adding that every 28-day cycle she harvests about 1,000 polythene baskets, earning around Rs. 500 a day.
Pic by J. Weerasekera.