Aurora Magazine

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Cultivating the Clean Green Mushroom

A day in the life of Farhan Sohail, Founder, Clean Greens.
Updated 30 May, 2024 03:13pm

My name is Farhan Sohail, and I am the founder of Clean Greens, a company dedicated to locally producing vegetables year-round through controlled environmental agriculture, reducing the dependence on imports. In this dynamic role, overseeing a time-sensitive field demands continuous monitoring of the crops using locally developed sensors and human-machine interfaces. Juggling various responsibilities, I lead departments such as production, sales, engineering, and administration.

Our most recent venture, mushroom production takes up 90% of my time. Mushroom production is divided into two subcategories: compost production and mushroom growing. Compost is to mushrooms what soil is to field-grown vegetables, and as such, it must be rich in the nutrients required for optimal mushroom growth.

My work starts with mapping out my tasks over the course of the entire day and week. The list is ordered according to task priority and spans multiple departments throughout the company. This is followed by visiting our mushroom farms and monitoring the growth of the mushroom crop. Our farm consists of six highly automated, environmentally controlled rooms. Conditions such as temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide and airflow are controlled 24/7. The data for the variables is transmitted to live software, which enables me to monitor them remotely.

However, these variables can only give so much information about the health and growth of mushrooms. To understand the complete picture, I visit the environmentally controlled growing rooms and visually analyse the quality of the mushrooms; do they require water, or are there any other fungi or insects that can pose a threat to the crop in terms of quality and/or quantity? Once this analysis is complete, the environmental conditions are adjusted to make sure that the healthy growth of mushrooms continues.

After visiting the mushroom farm, the next stop is the compost yard. Compost production in itself is a highly technical and controlled process involving various stages, such as fermentation and pasteurisation, spanning a period of three weeks. Throughout this period, multiple variables have to be closely monitored, such as temperature, smell, structure, colour, and moisture content (among other things), to ensure that compost of the highest quality is being produced for mushroom production later down the line. If any variables are not up to par, adjustments such as changing the amount of water and/or air given to water are made to make sure compost production is brought back on track.

The last stop on my journey is the packaging and quality control department to ensure that our product shipped out is up to market standard. Our customer portfolio spans various cuisines in the food industry, from pizzas, salads and burgers to barbecue and steaks. Each customer has their own requirements in terms of size, cut and packaging type. Mushrooms are highly perishable items, so the utmost care has to be taken to make sure the requirements of each customer are fulfilled without damaging the product due to mishandling or suboptimal storage conditions before it is shipped out. After QC, the product is shipped out to various eateries and supermarkets across Karachi and other cities.

After checking on production and packaging, I have back-to-back meetings with various departments, such as sales, supply chain, maintenance and engineering, to ensure our entire business is functioning well and all problems are addressed. When problems arise, I coordinate with both internal and external teams to diagnose the reason for any shortcomings and how they can be rectified as soon as possible to ensure minimal to no production loss.

Recently, a lot of focus has been on marketing to increase sales and fulfil our mushroom production capacity. We target B2B businesses that can buy fresh mushrooms from us in bulk. The local market is used to the higher priced and unappetising canned mushrooms and a lot of customers have to be educated about how fresh mushrooms are cooked and stored. I have spent many afternoons in the kitchens of different eateries in Karachi, playing the role of a chef and guiding restaurant chefs on how to incorporate our cheaper and higher-quality mushrooms into their recipes and make new recipes with this product.

My workday typically concludes around half past six, unless urgent issues demand attention, in which case I leave when the problem is solved. However, the sensitive nature of mushroom and compost production requires continuous remote monitoring, often extending into the night and sometimes waking me in the early hours of the day via a call from an employee monitoring the process at our farm.

My post-work routine consists of getting some exercise, either in the form of going to the gym or playing tennis. Exercise helps free my mind from the constant bombardment of decisions that I have to make every day and helps me freshen up for the hectic day that is forthcoming.

After exercise, I have dinner with my family at half past eight, followed by some TV time to unwind. I am generally in bed by eleven and usually read news articles that focus on international current affairs, the economy and technology. Working in a field that is extremely new to Pakistan has its own challenges, but the adrenaline rush you get from pioneering a new field is unparalleled. That is what fuels me and keeps me going every day.

Farhan Sohail is Founder, Clean Greens, a project of SG Allied Businesses Limited.