Follow your passion and turn it into your profession, then definitely you will be the happiest person on the planet. Meet 33-year-old Surabhi Pandey, a nature lover, and an enthusiastic permaculture farmer. She left her highly paid data scientist job and now enjoying a peaceful life in a small village in the Tamil Nadu district. Her story is filmy but surely motivates us to follow our hearts. Surabhi cultivates mushrooms on her small farm. She prepares solar-dried mushroom and solar dried mushroom powder and sells it in the local farmers’ market and to a nearby ashram as well.
She said, I always wanted to live a peaceful life that can impact the living of the deprived people by generating better employment opportunities in villages. Sharing her journey with us, she said, I worked as a Research Assistant at the National University of Singapore (NUS) for 8 months and moved to India later on. Then, I joined a start-up as a data scientist in Bangalore, but I was not getting the satisfaction I was always looking for. It was hectic, stressful, and affecting my health as well. So I left my job in 2017 and started exploring other ways to earn a better livelihood.
When I came across a ‘Permaculture conference’ happening for the first time in India. Permaculture is a design principle that revolves around three strong ethics–‘Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share’. She says – After spending 3 months in a running Permaculture farm and after learning farming there, she looked for a small piece of land and start practicing sustainable farming. It sounds a little strange, but I chose agriculture over a high-salary job. Although initial years were challenging when I started integrating small crops one by one, things started moving to a better pace.
In her words, my husband and family supported me and trusted my decision. Lockdown became a boon when we shifted permanently to our farm. We built a natural earthen house to live in; we upcycled all the wood used in the construction, from furniture to wooden steps to doors, etc.
We also have a food forest on our farm where we are growing native varieties of agroforestry plants and fruit trees as well. Apart from trees, we are also doing extensive water harvesting through trenches and water harvesting pits, apart from rooftop water harvesting (which is mainly used for household consumption). To make the farm self-sufficient and sustainable I started the cultivation of mushrooms in October 2021, the best part of mushroom cultivation is it can be grown on any waste materials like( paddy straw, rice straw, cardboard boxes, dried grass, sugarcane bagasse, etc, can leverage more profit if started by understanding the temperature and humidity requirement of the crop.
Mushroom cultivation doesn’t require a lot of space to grow. She says, ‘We don’t use any chemical/pesticides on our farm, not intending to do so in the future as well. Currently, apart from mushrooms, I am cultivating all local vegetables in my kitchen garden for household needs and farmers’ markets as well.
She believes that mushroom farming is a viable option for women farmers. It’s indoor cultivation, daily 2 hrs are more than enough for a sustainable income and doesn’t require heavy lifting as well. Once you understand how to maintain the temperature and humidity, you can reduce the risk of crop failure to a very minimal value. Earlier we were drying mushrooms using the direct sun drying technique. In the traditional drying method, birds destroy a large number of mushrooms. The nutritional value of mushrooms and the color were not very good.