Indie Of The Month: Forest Fungi
By Stella Nicholls
Photos provided by Forest Fungi
‘Nature alone is antique and the oldest art, a mushroom’ – Thomas Carlyle
We recently caught up with Dave Weymouth from Forest Fungi to find out all about the gourmet mushrooms that are grown from the farm shop in Dawlish.
Dave, tell us a little bit about your background:
I’m Devon born and bred and grew up on a beef farm. I actually always said that I would never be a farmer after seeing how my family struggled through hard times like the foot and mouth outbreak. My career before my “life of shrooms” was actually in learning disability support. I spent nine years in that field in various guises but finally left the job in 2016, not long after our son was born.
How did you first get involved with mushrooms and gain the knowledge to grow all the different varieties?
I got involved through my father-in-law who had met Scott Marshall (owner of Forest Fungi and Dave’s partner on the mushroom side of the business) previously and had taken on the role of chef at the Forest Fungi Cafe. I was looking for something more fulfilling, not just for me but for my family. Something that I could be proud of. Me and Scott got chatting and the rest, as they say, is history.
The knowledge of growing has developed over the last 2 years. The mushrooms only really ask for four things, the right temperature, light changes, CO2 and humidity. If you crack those then they should be happy. The rest is experience on how and when to harvest, which you pick up over time. We prefer to promote growing as a more sustainable way of enjoying mushrooms, especially as a lot of wild species are in decline in this country.
Tell us more about the Mushroom Farm’s commitment to becoming carbon neutral?
Right from the start, the goal has been to reach as close to carbon neutral as possible. None of our waste goes to landfill. We are currently working alongside a fellow grower who is recycling our spent mushroom blocks in order to grow outdoors in his woodland. Our four new grow rooms have been designed to reduce our water and electricity usage so we only use what is absolutely necessary. Moving forward we would like to harness wind and solar in order to meet all of our electricity needs.
That’s good news for the environment and for mushroom fans, so what markets and events can we find you at?
We attend farmers’ markets every week. The first and third Saturdays in the month we are in Crediton, the second, fourth and fifth Saturdays we are in Tavistock, the first Sunday is the Royal William Yard and the Third Sunday is Totnes Good Food Sunday. We love a good food festival. This year we are booked into so many I couldn’t possibly list them all. My wife Jess has worked tirelessly to get all our festivals booked in, she is truly an amazing woman. This year you can catch us at Nourish, Ashburton Food Festival, and Dartmouth Food Festival to name but a few.
The ‘Shroom Rooms’, sound intriguing, what was the inspiration behind creating spaces like this and do you find people are intrigued to see the way your mushrooms are grown?
We had basically filled our original grow room and as we were learning and refining our methods it was becoming more and more apparent that having all the species in one room was not the best way forward. All the species like different things so the one ‘grow’ room was OK for all of them but not perfect for any of them. We decided that the best way forward would be to create four new, species-specific grow rooms. As the space developed it seemed right that this be a public space so we can share what we do with the world and provide a bit of education and inspiration along the way. We have had some of our regulars visit the shroom rooms and the feedback has been great!
Why did you decide to dedicate an area to growing Shiitake? Was this solely due to demand?
Shiitake was the first mushroom that Forest Fungi grew and so this became our flagship crop. It is true, the demand for Shiitake is higher than some of the other species we grow, but it is also a flavoursome and versatile mushroom that we are very passionate about. The medicinal benefits are huge and this only increases its popularity.
That’s interesting, could you tell us more about the medicinal quality of the mushrooms that you grow?
Our main focus is on growing quality, tasty mushrooms. We are happy to chat with customers about the health benefits but this has never been our main focus. That said, we do grow mushrooms that have fantastic medicinal qualities; Shiitake, Hen of the Woods and Lion’s Mane being the most sought after. We have included the health benefits of all that we grow on the displays in the shroom rooms so the best thing to do is pop down for a visit and see for yourselves.
Thanks, Dave, we’d love to! Moving on from there then, what are some of the high points that you’ve experienced on your journey?
I think the whole journey has been a high point. We have so much to celebrate. This year alone we have launched our range of dried mushrooms, achieved organic status through the soil association and built the shroom rooms. It’s a roller-coaster that keeps getting more exciting. We value everything we do and all our customers. I truly believe that it all comes together to make one awesome high.
It sounds like the business is really ‘growing’ (excuse the pun), and that you are on an incredible journey. Life always has its challenges, however. What are some that you have had to face?
The biggest challenge for any grower is not being able to grow. Although what we do is indoors it does not make us immune to the changing climate. This summer has been particularly difficult due to the prolonged heat. Despite our best efforts we have struggled to keep the rooms cool and that has had a catastrophic effect on some species. Other species, the oyster varieties especially, have responded well to the heat so it has mainly been about shifting our focus on species until the temperature settles to something a little more British.
What is the best life advice that you have received and who has been your greatest influencer along the way?
I think we make our own path in life. We are all individuals and just because something worked for someone else does not mean it will work for me. We push on as a Forest Fungi family, we learn from our mistakes and we love life in the process.
My drive to succeed is fuelled by my family. My wife Jess is amazing and a force of nature. If it wasn’t for her I would not be here today. We have a son and there is another little one on the way. They influence me to be the best I can be.
Lastly, could you share your favourite quote with us, Dave?
It’s a bit cliché for a mushroom grower but Terry Pratchett did say “all Fungi are edible, some are only edible once”. The collective mushroom community is groaning right now but I still think it’s amusing.
If you would like to learn more about Forest Fungi, pop onto their website.