Interview by Sarah Shumick
At just seven years old, Te’Lario Watkins II discovered a passion for growing mushrooms. Since then, he has started a mushroom farm, written a book, and been featured on the Steve Harvey show among other things. Now 11, Watkins has accomplished so much in his life that he’s completely believable when he says he wants to be President of the United States someday. In addition to his passion for mushroom farming, Watkins aims to solve hunger issues in his community and makes time to volunteer for organizations that fit that mission. If you want to get your hands on some Tiger Mushroom Farms produce, head on over to the Worthington Farmers Market or check out their website.
Being from Columbus, What is it about the city that endears it to you the most? What I love most about this city is all the cool places you can visit. I love COSI, the Franklin Park Conservatory and the North Market and other places just to hang out and have fun.
Tell us how this all started. How and why did you decide to become a mushroom farmer? My first Cub Scout meeting we grew cat grass and basil. I enjoyed growing them and when winter came I wanted to keep growing something else. I read a book about mushrooms at school and told my parents about it. It seemed cool and I wanted to try it. My parents bought a mushroom kit and I loved watching it grow. We bought different mushroom kits and loved growing Shiitake & Oyster mushrooms.
How many kinds of mushrooms do you grow? Do you have a favorite? I grow shiitake and a variety of oyster mushrooms. Shiitake is my favorite.
Tell us more about Tiger Mushroom Farms. We grow and sell mushrooms at local farmers markets, restaurants, a university and a hospital. We also sell dried products at the farmers markets and we ship them too. Customers love our Shiitake & Onion Soup Mix because they can season meat and vegetables with it. It also makes a tasty sour cream dip. A lot of people use the dried shiitake in crock pot dishes or soups.
What should we know and where can we find your mushrooms for purchase? I’m selling my mushroom products and my book at the Worthington Farmers Market on Saturdays 9-12. You can also buy my book and dried products on my website. You can find out my summer schedule on my Facebook or Instagram pages, Tiger Mushroom Farms.
What gets you up in the morning? My parents get me up in the morning.
And what gets you through the workweek? Thinking about all the people I’m helping. I volunteer with Food Rescue US by picking up unsold food from restaurants and delivering it to local food banks. I’m also a Hunger Hero with No Kid Hungry. I host a Friendsgiving every year to raise money and awareness to end hunger.
As an entrepreneur, who is helping to guide you along the way? My parents & mentors have really helped me learn more about business and giving back.
Many adults with their own businesses struggle with “work-life” balance. How do you manage your business, school work and social life? I do my school work, then my business work.
What do you do for fun? I enjoy fencing with my friends and at competitions.
What do you want to be when you grow up? The President of the United States
What might someone be surprised to know about you? I’ve been on the Steve Harvey Show and I wrote a book.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be? Speed.
What books/podcasts are you reading/listening to right now? I like reading Diary of A Wimpy Kid books and I like listening to motivational speakers like Les Brown, Joel Osteen and Eric Thomas and Og Mandino.
Tell us about a community initiative that you’re most passionate about. I am passionate about feeding the hungry.
What’s the most exciting thing about Columbus right now? The COSI Stem Festival in May. I’m excited because it was my first time going and I was a Grand Marshal.
What are three things you think Columbus needs?
1) More amusement parks
2) More museums
3) a subway system
If someone were to ask you what the “pulse” of Columbus is, what would you tell them? Local food is a big part of our community.