Student uses mushroom minor to benefit her home

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When it comes to helping impoverished communities, mushrooms might not be the first solution that comes to mind. But for Aarushi Rana, they are one option. Rana, an economics major, is minoring in mushroom science and technology, and plans to use what she has learned to improve living conditions for people in her home city of Mumbai, India.

“Studying international development in economics made me want to link it to the major problems in my country and help eradicate issues such as poverty," she said. "I thought growing mushrooms could be one of the ways to achieve my goal.”

In the Mumbai area, Rana spotted two major populations with problems — unemployed women and malnourished children. She believes providing a way to produce sustainable food will improve the quality of life for both of these populations.

Her goal is to start a mushroom production plant on the outskirts of Mumbai to benefit the village of Khalapur Block in Panvel's Raigad District. Rana's production plant will start with oyster and button mushrooms, because they already are known in India and will flourish in the climate.

To focus on helping women and children, Rana wants to employ only women at her plant. They will learn the growing and harvesting process, and even take home some of the raw materials to cultivate their own crops of oyster mushrooms.

“Oyster mushrooms don’t require complicated conditions to grow, so these women could grow mushrooms in their backyards for their families," she explained.

Rana believes that education about mushrooms is just as important as giving people jobs. In addition to knowing how to cultivate mushrooms, she plans to teach people about their positive nutritional qualities. They are a good source of selenium, an antioxidant that helps body cells avoid damage that could develop into chronic diseases. They also support the immune system, have low sodium, and are full of Vitamin D.

“Culturally, people in India don’t quite know how good mushrooms are for you, and I aim to change that. Mushrooms can provide children with the nutrition they need,” she said.

For students who are interested in mycology, the study of mushrooms and other fungi, Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences offers a unique advantage. The mushroom science and technology minor is unique to the University, and Pennsylvania grows about 64 percent of all of the United States' edible mushrooms.

Students in the minor attend lectures in addition to working with mushrooms in the Mushroom Research Center on campus. They work to create the right environments for mushrooms to grow and mix the substrate and raw materials themselves. “We get a lot of hands-on experience,” Rana said.

Rana’s work to provide sustainable jobs and food sources shows how impactful the mushroom science and technology minor can be for students.

“I never saw myself working a 9-to-5 job,” Rana said. “I wanted to do something for the benefit of my country, and mushroom production will allow me to do that.”

Rana’s production plant is in the early development phase. She has the land, and the plant and its machinery are currently being designed. 

After Rana graduates next December, she will return home to work at the plant. She is already looking into the future of her solution to combat unemployment and malnutrition, and doesn’t want to stop at just one facility. “If this plant is successful, I plan to expand to other villages,” she said.

For information about the mushroom science and technology minor, offered by the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology, visit the website.

Media Contacts: 
Last Updated April 18, 2017