Forest Fungi is Devon's new food buisness
PUBLISHED: 10:58 06 February 2015 | UPDATED: 10:58 06 February 2015
A Devon food business born out of adversity
has become something of an unusual growing success, as NATALIE MILLAR-PARTRIDGE discovers
It’s become a huge trend of late to ‘grow your own’ but could you imagine having your own ’shroom room’ with a climate control system for growing vast varieties of mushrooms in their most natural state? Scott Marshall, owner of Forest Fungi, does exactly that from his farmshop based at Dawlish Warren.
Scott first became interested in mushrooms in 2006 after being diagnosed with testicular cancer. After undergoing surgery he began his chemotherapy and it was during this period, whilst suffering multiple viruses and unable to fight off infection, that he began researching the health properties and benefits of certain mushroom species when eaten raw.
There are three main mushroom species that are said to be specifically good for the immune system and in particular, reported to help cancer patients undergoing treatment. They are the maitake, reishi and shiitake mushrooms.
Though sceptical, Scott was prepared to try anything and looking back, is very glad that he did as it was the beginning of, not only a healthier future but also a successful one with his business really taking off over the last year.
After a month of eating the aforementioned mushrooms in their raw state three or four times a week Scott began to notice a big improvement in his health. He was able to continue with his chemotherapy, feeling generally a lot better and even stayed virus-free. In 2009 Scott was given the all clear and began to think about new business ventures.
In October 2012 he left his previous job determined to work with mushrooms and in June 2013 he found the site at Dawlish Warren, previously a garden centre, that is the base for his business.
The fungi grow in a climate control room where the temperature is kept between 15 and 25 degrees centigrade, depending on the season. Forest Fungi grow seven species that they change, depending on the time of year and when I visited, Scott was growing shiitake, yellow oyster and grey oyster.
On entering the grow room, I am instantly hit with the rather pungent smell of fungi. I feel more than a little in awe of the mushrooms lined up in front of me. The array of these specimens is utterly curious and beautiful with the grey oysters resembling intricate sea coral and the shiitake bringing to mind something from a Harry Potter film.
The mushrooms are grown in a completely natural state by using three ingredients: oak sawdust, rye and mushroom spore. These ingredients are compiled in a wet mix before being placed in breathable bags which let enough oxygen in and some carbon dioxide out. They’re then incubated for two months in a big warehouse at a separate site. The shiitake mushrooms, amazingly, double in size every 24 hours and cropping begins after one week of growth.
The growth process is repeated fortnightly with the king oysters being cropped every two to three weeks as they grow at a slightly slower rate. Some of the species can take as little as seven to ten days before cropping begins. At Forest Fungi the mushrooms are grown all year round, with Scott and his team harvesting between 400-500 kilos a month, selling produce in their own farmshop as well as supplying to many high profile restaurants and trade customers online.
Throughout the year the ’shroom room’ will be home to different types of mushroom with Scott rotating the species accordingly. “As it gets cooler certain strains grow better than others as many of the species are seasonal,” he explains. During the cooler months species will include: lion’s mane and maitke (the latter also known as Hen of the Woods). Both of these strains prefer the cooler temperatures and are grown between December and April along with the shiitake and king oyster. The primary factors which help to maintain a healthy growth and crop include maintaining the temperature, humidity and airflow.
After cropping, some of the less aesthetically perfect mushrooms are dried and oak-smoked in Cornwall at Tregida Smoke House with the rest being distributed to restaurants and farm shops across Devon.
Forest Fungi supply to over 40 restaurants in Devon and Cornwall including The Rodeen, Kenton, Rock Salt, Plymouth and two rosette holders, Jack in The Green at Rockbeare. They also supply to like-minded farm shops, Darts Farm and Pipers Farm.
The dedicated team have won Taste Of The West gold award for best farm shop 2014 and were also one of four finalists for best farm shop in the whole of the South West.
I ask Scott just what it is that makes Forest Fungi mushrooms so flavoursome? The mushrooms are grown, he tells me, using absolutely no chemicals, exactly as they would do in the woods, emulating that of a Japanese autumn.
And the short timespan between cutting and landing on customers’ plates means they are as fresh as they can be when you actually eat them.
From March, Scott and his wife Becca plan to open an indoor café bistro at the front of the farm shop, catering for around 30 people.
They will also be taking bookings for a unique ‘Discover and Dine’ experience for groups of 20 people which will include a tour of the grow room and a cookery demonstration followed by a three-course meal with the option to buy recipe boxes, including ingredients and method cards, to take home.
Scott is so passionate about his mushrooms that I am hardly surprised at the success he has experienced so early on in his venture. It seems he and the mushrooms have an affinity which is what makes Forest Fungi a unique place to visit.