“I was broke depressed and did not have an income. In fact, I was neck-deep in debt ranging from loans from friends and family to bank loans,” says Wangari a mother of 2 after being unemployed.
Wangari who would later thrive in the mushroom business and got global recognition says that she never thought of ever being a farmer.
“I grew up in Nyandarua, my mother was a farmer and so she made sure we were fed, relatives would come and go home with something, and our neighbours knew they could come to our garden and harvest vegetables. But I never saw money change hands so I told my Dad I want to go to the University of Nairobi and then get a job and that is what I did,” she says
Wangari studied Bachelor of Arts Sociology then went to USIU and graduated with a masters in Business Administration Strategic Management.
Got a job at a Real Estate Organisation as a project manager, but when the Real estate industry went down in 2016 the company was closed.
They built a house in Kitengela but due to financial challenges, she decided to start a kitchen garden to keep herself busy.
“Then I realised I am in Kitengela and no one else is farming so I borrowed my neighbour’s land and planted indigenous vegetables. People were amazed,” she says
She started to make short videos for her friends giving them a guide on how to buy vegetables, and what to look for so that they are not duped, and that is how she started her YouTube channel under the name “Farmer on Fire,”
How she started her mushroom business
Wangari was in a church meeting when someone came to train them on mushroom farming which helped grow her interest in mushroom farming and she decided to go for further training in Limuru which cost her Sh 2000.
“I learnt, came back and built my own mushroom shade and that’s when I realised it was such a high-value crop.
The Mushroom has around 20 pieces, and you can get Sh 200, on the other hand, the sukuma wiki that sold for Sh 200 was so much you could hold it in your hands, that was my light bulb moment. I was like I want to farm in a way I can make money and still do it in the convenience of my home,” she says.
Wangari walks us into one of the mushroom shades where she has planted her button mushrooms, it is a brick house with a floor that is not cemented so it is easier to pour water and balance the humidity in the room.
The mushrooms are planted in plastic bags.
“You need any form of composting waste, I started with cutting grass outside my compound, but when you deal with button mushrooms because they are delicate it’s good to buy hay, add chicken manure to decompose it and break it down,” she says
You will need to sterilize it to destroy the competing fungus. Wangari has metal tanks that she uses to boil the mixture as a way to sterilise it. However, another option is using chemical sterilisers.
Afterwards, you add the seed/spawn that is imported. It comes in 15 litres and costs between Sh 15,000-18,000.
A farmer has to make sure they have enough bags that will accommodate all the spawns because once opened, it cannot be re-used.
“It is shipped in cold rooms and must be refrigerated until you are ready to use, it is like a virus,” she says
Wangari adds that button mushrooms take about a month to grow, they are known in Kenya hence a farmer will not struggle to get market for it. However, they are very susceptible to diseases.
“You can earn half a million from a crop. One bag will give you at least a kilo. One kilo you sell for sh 1000, because it’s 4 panets, a panet is a quarter a kilo. So when you have 400 bags you have sh. 400,000, and the cost of productions is around sh. 100,000,” she says
However, because they are susceptible to diseases a framer has to be on the lookout.
“You don’t earn as much with oyster mushrooms because people in urban areas identify with button mushrooms, but is good for starters because it encourages you,” she says
The oyster spawns are made locally, transported without refrigeration. You can start small scale.
You go through the same process of sterilisations then after a month the mushrooms are ready for sale.
The seeds cost sh 800 per litre. You sell a kilo at sh 600.
Training and Global awards
Wangari has Maasai women who visit her farm for training then go back home and start their own farms and empower themselves.
“I wanted to find a way of giving them assistance but in a sustainable way, so when I realised that the drought negatively impacting them and their cows were dying, I decided to introduce them the mushroom farming as an alternative form of enterprise,” she says
This year Wangari was awarded a Global award recognising her efforts to empower others and posting free content online for 4 years.
The award came with some funds and while she was a panelist in one of the forums discussing matters of food security, one of the panelists offered to further fund her project.
“I want to be harsh to women, they need to take on responsibility for their lives. We always say that men are not giving women a sit at the table yet they are the backbone of agriculture, but what are the women doing to take charge of their lives. Playing the equality card can only work for so long, so we have to be in charge” she says
Wangari adds that being a woman in agribusiness has it’s challenges.
“They says a farmer does not look like this. A farmer is someone who produces food or is involved in the food system production. The fact that I am able to offer employment to other people, people should no longer shun farming. We need to make farming sexy and they become aware that they can still slay in the soil,” she says
Health benefits of Mushrooms
lower cholesterol levels
They act as substitute for red meat. They keep cholesterol levels low, block cholesterol from being absorbed and lowers the overall amount of cholesterol in your blood.
Source of vitamin D
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium to maintain and build strong bones.
Stimulate a healthier gut
The microbe in your gut is home to organisms and bacteria that play a large role in your health and mood. One way to keep your gut healthy is to stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in that space with the use of probiotics, such as mushrooms.
Support a healthy immune system
Mushrooms contain macro-nutrients that support a healthy immune system.
Support brain cells
Lion’s mane mushrooms are known to have a significant impact on the growth of brain cells and improving memory.
Types of mushroomsCultivated Mushrooms Wild Mushrooms
Cultivated are edible mushrooms that are grown indoors and outdoors. While wild mushrooms are edible mushroom varieties, picked in the natural environment
Cultivation has four key phases: Inoculation, Colonization, Fruiting, Harvesting.
Inoculation- The introduction of the live mushroom spawn into the log.
Colonization - When mycelium is growing, but no fruiting bodies (mushrooms) are present.
Mycelium-a part of a mushroom that is very similar to the root system of any plant
During colonization, mushrooms need warm, humid conditions with good fresh air exchange
Fruiting - This is when the actual mushrooms start coming out.