Barbs and Hamish Wadham love meat just as much as they love the mushrooms they grow. PHOTOS/GIANINA SCHWANECKE

GIANINA SCHWANECKE

Mushrooms – people either love them or hate them.

But one Carterton couple is hoping to change all that with their recent venture Urban Fresh Farms.

In a converted garage space down Belvedere Rd, Hamish and Barbs Wadham are growing gourmet mushrooms.

Hamish has always enjoyed working with the land, having grown up and worked on the family beef and sheep farm in Waikato.

Barbs is a self-described “city girl” but has a passion for good food.

They moved to Wairarapa five years ago for a better lifestyle for their family.

About nine months ago, they started experimenting with growing mushrooms.

“Hamish loves trying something new, and we’ve always loved them,” Barbs explained.

They now produce between 30 to 50 kilograms of mushrooms per week, specialising in oyster, shiitake, and enoki varieties.

It’s quite a process though, Hamish said.

“Mushrooms grow in the wild fine. As soon as you do it by yourself, you’ve got to make this perfect environment.”

He said they chose oyster mushrooms for their flavour and texture, and ease of growing.

Pink oyster mushrooms are named for their vibrant colour.

“Oyster mushrooms are the best to start with as they’re not too hard to grow.

“They’re not too finicky with their environment.”

It takes about three weeks to grow mushrooms, not including the work done to germinate them involving petri dishes.

The mushroom spawn is placed on grain and left to grow.

“We take that grain and put it on a hardwood and soy growing medium, which is an agri by-product,” Hamish said.

“Once they’re grown, we have the spent block which you can break up and put in your garden as compost; it’s got a lot of nutrients.”

Though it was a more expensive substrate, he said it was worth it for the added supplements.

“A lot of people comment on the darkness of our mushrooms, which is because of the high nutrient content of the soy.”

Mushrooms are a popular meat alternative, providing plenty of protein while also being low in calories and sodium.

“You can get everything from the mushroom – high protein, and it helps lower cholesterol levels,” he said.

They also have a much lower environmental impact.

It takes 13.6 litres of water and two kilowatt-hours to produce one kilogram of mushrooms.

Comparatively, Beef and Lamb New Zealand say it takes between 65 to 115 litres of extracted water to produce one kilogram of beef  – the global average for beef is 1001 litres.

For every kilogram of sheep meat, it takes 40 to 90 litres.

But the Wadhams still love their meat and say it’s about balance.

“We’re not vegetarian or vegan,” Barbs said.

“We love meat. But I want there to be good alternatives.

“My background is Korean, and my mom always used to cook oyster or enoki mushrooms with the beef.”

She said she enjoyed showing their two children how their food was made.

“I feel like I’m doing something for my kids and my community.

“We can show them where the food comes from and the value of growing something yourself.

“Farmers spend so much time and effort. And mushroom growing is the same.”

The mushrooms can be grown anywhere, as demonstrated by the Wadham’s set up.

“The oysters are grown vertically so are good for growing in an urban environment,” Barbs said.

The couple also offers ‘Ready to Fruit’ mini farm packages so people can grow their own mushrooms.

“All you have to do is open it up and keep spraying it regularly. In five to six days you’ve got three-quarters of a kilo of mushrooms,” Hamish said.

He said kids also loved the process and they had sold many kits in the leadup to Christmas as a fun summer project.

Compared to other growers who source their colonies from China, the mushrooms are grown from scratch at Urban Fresh Farms.

The mushrooms are sold to restaurants across Wairarapa and Wellington, including Wharekauhau Luxury Lodge in South Wairarapa and Masterton’s The Screening Room.

There was also demand from Auckland, which made keeping product fresh slightly more challenging.

Fresh mushrooms keep for between four to seven days depending on how they are stored.

“The hardest thing is shipping. I think that’s the biggest obstacle for farmers, is that they can’t reach the customer directly,” Barbs said.

She said changing people’s perspectives about mushrooms was one of the other significant challenges.

“We struggle to change people’s perception of mushrooms.

“Many people are scared of mushrooms or don’t like the texture. People either love them or are afraid to try them.”

In addition to fresh mushrooms, the couple also sell dried, powdered and mushroom butter.

To combat this, they also produce mushroom powders, seasonings, and butters.

“In Korea, it’s common to have a dry mushroom powder to use as a broth or for seasoning.”

The mushroom butter had proven particularly popular and was “going great guns”, Hamish said.

The couple has also experimented with mushroom coffee recently and are focusing on their shiitake varieties which are harder to grow but have a deeper flavour.

Hamish said they hoped to grow all year round and that the humid weather this summer had been a massive help.

  • More information can be found online at: urbanfreshfarms.co.nz/
  • The couple is also offering a 40 per cent discount for all online products using the code TIMESAGE. This will expire on March 31.