It’s never too early to become an entrepreneur. No story makes that more apparent than that of seven-year-old Te’Lario Watkins.
Mushrooms are this little man’s business.
At his first Cub Scout meeting, Te’Lario planted some grass and basil and was eager to keep a very watchful eye on his crops. He loved tending his plants so much that when the winter rolled around, his family started looking for something he could grow indoors. They landed on mushrooms.
What started as one mushroom kit has now grown into small, family-operated business Tiger Mushroom Farms.
The family purchased their initial kit from Back to the Roots (and Te’Lario has now become a junior ambassador for the brand).
“After that we started growing them for ourselves and we had too many,” mom LaVanya Watkins says.
They decided to sell the excess at farmers markets, but realized the licenses and requirements to do so, prompting them to turn their mushroom-growing operation into a full-blown business.
Tiger Mushroom Farms began with the Easton Farmers Market and has since expanded to four others, added a restaurant (Skillet in German Village) and a CSA, outpacing even their own expectations.
A variety of Oyster mushrooms and Te’Lario’s favorite, shiitake, are Tiger Mushroom Farms’ specialties.
“I like that they are healthy and that they have iron and vitamin D,” Te’Lario says.
In addition to fresh mushrooms, “We’ve made some extra products from the mushrooms that we have cultivated,” LaVanya adds. Tiger Mushroom Farms makes dried soup mix from the shiitakes that’s available at Celebrate Local.
They’re hoping to stay at the markets during the winter, with plans to be at North Market through November. And, they’re eyeing the indoor winter market in Worthington.
By this time next year, Te’Lario and Tiger Mushroom Farms are hoping for even bigger and better things.
Through quite the twist of fate, they recently secured a loan from ECDI.
“We were in an Easton Farmers Market meeting and Heidi Maybruck (coordinator of the market) told us about an open house for small businesses at the Destiny Center on Leonard Avenue,” LaVanya says. “We went to the ECDI building (also on Leonard Avenue) by mistake. While we were there, I picked up some literature about their S.E.E.D. Program.”
The S.E.E.D Program helps budding businesses develop their concept and business plan. Once she completed the program, Tiger Mushroom Farms was able to apply for and was rewarded a loan.
They’re also working on a crowdfunding campaign through Barnraiser.
“Up to this point, we have financed everything themselves,” LaVanya says. Money from the loan and the campaign will all go towards buying equipment to expand the operation.
Starting at such a young age, who knows what other businesses budding entrepreneur Te’Lario will come up with over the years. When I asked him if he wanted to be an entrepreneur when he grew up, the answer was a resounding YES!
For more information, tigermushroomfarms.com.