The Young Mushroom Maestro
We are creating a new interconnected world for teenage entrepreneurs to network with fellow members, cultivate innovations, apply for funding, access entrepreneurship education, join local chapters, share expertise, and solve challenges.
We are super excited about young entrepreneurs who are improving the lives of other teens, applying solutions to real-world problems, producing thriving businesses, and pivoting the world to the future.
If you know of any teenager who has launched a business as a teenager and is below 25, we would be happy to cover his/her story. Please reach out to [email protected], sending some basic info, and we will respond within 48 hours.Te’Lario Watkins II, Founder
Tiger Mushroom Farms
By Abhishek Kumar and Mary Olson
Blacklick, Ohio, U.S.A. March 1, 2020. Normally, every kid has a passion for doing something they love in their free time. Out of hundreds of such hobbies, not many include gardening. Now how usual is it for a kid to turn his gardening hobby into a successful business at the age of 7? I am sure most of you have not known many. Today's hero is one such kid, Te'Lario Watkins, founded his company Tiger Mushroom Farms when he was only 7.
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Today, at 12-years-old, Te'Lario manages Tiger Mushroom Farms. He grows and sells mushrooms at ten local farmers’ markets, restaurants, a university, and a hospital. His company also sells dried products at farmers’ markets and ships them too. Customers love their Shiitake & Onion Soup Mix because for seasoning meats and vegetables. The mix also makes a delicious sour cream dip. crockpot dishes, and soups.
This idea to start an agriculture business came about when seven-year-old Te'Lario was given his first Cub Scout project to grow cat grass and basil at his house. While nurturing and seeing the plants grow, he fell in love with gardening in no time. He enjoyed growing the cat grass and basil during spring so much that after the project was finished, he still wanted to continue growing something else. When his parents asked what he wanted to become. Young Te'Lario immediately said, "I want to grow mushrooms."
He read about mushrooms at school earlier and it seemed cool to him. So cool that he couldn't wait to try and watch mushrooms grow.
Going full throttle, Mr. and Mrs. Watkins got young Te'Lario mushroom kits from BACK TO ROOTS. They brought him different varieties of mushroom kits. They all loved Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms. This is how Te'Lario's successful journey started and he is still running at a full pace.
Soon, the mushrooms overtook the Watkins’ house. When the production increased well beyond the family’s capacity, they decided to sell the extra mushrooms at the nearby farmer's market. His parents also thought this would help seven-year-old Te'Lario and his thirteen-year-old sister develop public speaking and marketing skills. And after a few days of sales pitches, they realized they needed a name and logo for the business. The venture was named 'TIGER MUSHROOM FARMS' because Te'Lario was a Tiger Cub Scout.
Now they were all buckled up to expand their home-based business, but growing mushrooms was not so easy and required plenty of attention. Shiitake mushrooms prefer 65-70 degree temperatures, and pink oysters favor 65-85 degrees. That's why the extended shelves consume half of the Watkins' basement and are dedicated to shiitake mycelium (the filamental "roots" of fungi).
The pink oysters are grown in bags of straw tucked in the upstairs bedroom, where the temperature suits their favoured tropical preference. They have installed two humidifiers to keep the humidity around 80 percent, and the dark environment allows the mycelium to spread throughout the shredded sweetgum and oak blocks, about 17 days later many mushrooms push out. Just before they're big enough to harvest, the mushrooms release spores that fill the basement.
The Watkins’ wear lab coats and masks to collect the grown mushrooms. They manicure the mushrooms in their tiny kitchen island, where they chop off mushroom stems before packing quart-sized plastic containers and applying an official Tiger Mushroom Farms label.
During the summer, they sell fresh and dried mushrooms and mushroom seasoning at as many as seven markets a week. And during winter, they apply more focus on stores and restaurants, including the Raisin Rack grocery in Westerville and the Urban Farmer Steakhouse in Cleveland. Te'Lario and Kennedy, his elder sister, pocket 25 percent of the proceeds; the rest goes into their college savings accounts.
The Watkins siblings also received $500 to plant a vegetable garden and donate the bounty to area food pantries. According to Te'Lario's mother, he might be a CEO in the making, but Te'Lario's buying preferences still are of 12-year-olds i.e candies and toys.
Customers always ask, "What can I do with these?" and he always says, "You put them in spaghetti." The youngster recently started sharing his business acumen with others and delivering PowerPoint presentations, which he makes (with some parental guidance) at Mifflin Middle School and the Granville Rotary Club.(1) Watkins says he has learned a lot from growing mushrooms, including how to network, public speaking skills, and money-management techniques.
According to Te'Lario, his parents & mentors have helped him learn more about business and giving back. Being a great parent, his mother uses his passion for growing in his academic life too, she makes him complete his school work and then lets him do the business work. He sought advice from the Back to the Roots owners. Alex [Back to the Roots co-founder] taught him how to sell mushrooms and how to pay his workers. He learned that to sell; he must know his product and stay engaged. Alex also advised him that he could pay his workers on commission.
Te'Lario's parents are helping him build the business, and he’ll get it when he’s an adult. He sees the money come in, and they take him to the bank. He knows that they have different accounts for the business, and the house or personal expenses. He also helps count the money and he is starting to understand taxes.
Back to the Roots had an opening for a brand ambassador, but Te'Lario was too young. They made him a junior ambassador. They really support him and talk with him on Skype. Te’Lario was at the Back to the Roots booth at Natural Products Expo West. It’s amazing what he took from that original box.
Te'Lario says, "I would love to grow morels. I want to build a big, giant factory to sell mushrooms all around the world. I would put my factory in Ohio." According to Mrs. Watkins, their next step is trying to get a warehouse and grow mushrooms in there so that they can supply the high demand.
About Te'Lario, he likes to read books and listen to motivational speakers. He loves to talk and never turns down an opportunity to meet new people. When asked what he wants to do when he grows up, Te'Lario enthusiastically says that he wants to be the 'President of the USA.’ Looking at the little master's present achievement, his dream doesn't seem unrealistic at all. Although Te'Lario's business prospects look very promising, he has a backup plan. Te’Lario is interested in obtaining a degree in Economics.
Since becoming involved with the local food scene, Te'Lario learned about the issues of hunger & food insecurity. Little Watkins is very passionate about feeding the hungry. He volunteers with Food Rescue US by picking up unsold food from restaurants and delivering it to local food banks. Te'Lario runs a garden in his yard and donates the produce to local food banks. He is also a Hunger Hero with No Kid Hungry and hosts a Friendsgiving every year to raise money and awareness about ending hunger.(2)
Te'Lario was recently recognized as a 20 Under 20 Youth Leader by the Mayor of Columbus. Te'Lario also took his mushrooms to the "Steve Harvey Show," where he asked the host of the NBC talk show for "free tips on how to become a zillionaire." His parents were so worried about their child being on the "Steve Harvey Show," but seeing Te'Lario and the host chat like old friends, they were very relieved.
He recently became a Les Brown Certified Speaker and loves to share his story with schools, churches , rotary clubs and other organizations. Te’Lario wanted to reach more people with his story, so he wrote a book about his mushroom journey when he was 9. He wants to inspire kids and adults to DREAM BIG!
Tiger Mushroom Farms provides fresh shiitake & oyster mushrooms to the community through Farmers Markets ( Worthington Farmers Market, Westgate Farmers Market & the Franklin Park Conservatory Farmers Market. Occasionally, Te'Lario will participate in pop-up markets throughout the area, and you can follow him on social media for updates. You can also find Tiger Mushroom Farms products on the menu at fine restaurant establishments that favor quality local food like Ambrose & Eve, Preston's, Urban Farmer Cleveland, Gallos Tap Room, Skillet, Sassafras Bakery, and more.(3)
(1)Julia Oller, Columbus Dispatch
(2) Community Service, Tiger Mushroom Farms LLC
(3)About Me, Tiger Mushroom Farms LLC
Image Credits: https://www.tigermushroomfarms.com/
Company Website: https://www.tigermushroomfarms.com/
Abhishek Kumar is a valued member of the Media Group at Teenager Startups. He is a cheerful person and a 19-year old student keen on learning and growing. As a media coordinator and writer, Abhishek has contributed his third byline story about Te'Lario Watkins II, Tiger Mushroom Farms with editorial inputs from Mary Olson.
This article is copyright and property of Teenager Startups. For reprint rights or to connect with teen entrepreneur Te’Lario Watkins II, please send your request to [email protected]