A shared love of Welsh poetry has led to the rapid expansion of a Gwynedd mushroom-growing company.
The Mushroom Garden – Snowdonia, has already tasted success in producing fresh and dried Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms for customers including restaurants, hotels and the National Trust.
However, as the family-run business has blossomed, so has the need for more growing space.
As a result of the formation of a new partnership, the business is set to increase its capacity five-fold, with the weekly production of Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms estimated to rise from 200kg to around 1 tonne per week.
Thirteen years ago, interest in fungi and foraging led Cynan and June Jones to try their hand at cultivating mushrooms at their smallholding at Nantmor near Beddgelert.
“At that time there was a European Union-funded programme being run by Bangor University and Gwynedd County Council which looked at what alternative high-value crops could be grown in the area,” explains Cynan, who previously worked in financial services.
“We knew a bit about mushrooms anyway, and we were taken on as a pilot scheme. At the end of the programme, we carried on.”
Unlike conventional mushrooms which grow in compost, the Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms are grown in polytunnels, chemical-free on special Welsh oak blocks.
However, while still around 15% of the business, fresh mushrooms have a limited shelf life. Wishing to cut back on the potential for waste, Cynan and June began drying their mushrooms to extend their use.
By powdering and seasoning the mushrooms, they have created a whole range of products.
“We are quality food producers and are eager to develop new opportunities and markets with our range of products based on mushrooms – products which are suitable for all types of dishes such as meat, fish, vegetarian and vegan dishes.”
Operating from a commercial kitchen which they created from a building at the rear of their house, their mushroom-based seasonings include Shiitake, and an Oyster Mushroom-based HerbShroom.
Also, in collaboration with The Anglesey Sea Salt Company / Halen Môn, The Mushroom Garden has developed the famed Japanese seasoning – Umami. Identified as the ‘fifth taste’, Umami helps accentuate deep and savoury flavours of dishes.
Says Cynan, who has become an authority on fungi and runs courses and foraging walks:
“It’s a privilege to work with other food producers, and we are looking to work with more producers.”
Such has become the popularity of The Mushroom Garden’s products that extra growing capacity has become a necessity – now provided by Montgomeryshire beef and sheep farmers, Arwyn and Gwenllian Davies.
Arwyn, who farms 320 acres near Llanerfyl, has known Cynan for some years, as they share a love of writing poetry and became friends.
“We’ve known each other a long time, I’ve taught cynghanedd (a style of Welsh poetry), and over the years Cynan and I would see each other at eisteddfodau.
“Gwenllian and I were looking to diversify on the farm and looked at different options, but nothing quite suited our situation. Cynan said they were looking to expand and mushrooms fitted the bill.”
Arwyn has installed two polytunnels, with a combined length of 110ft by 20ft, in which in the coming year (2019) they aim to produce around 40 tonnes of mushrooms.
“The increase in production means we can take on new contracts as well as servicing existing customers,” says Cynan.
The pair will be revealing their expansion plans and new products to potential customers and collaborators at an event in Montgomery next week.
The Mushroom Garden has been helped in its progression by Cywain -– a Menter a Busnes delivered project that supports the development of growth orientated businesses in the food and drink sector in Wales.
“Cywain has helped us a heck of a lot,” says Cynan. “They have been there from the very start, in terms of business development support and getting us into some of the best trade events.”
Says Cywain Development Manager, Marial Edwards:
“It’s great to see a partnership and business model forming such as this, which leads to business expansion and the potential to access new markets and create new jobs in another region in Wales.”