A self described crazy scientist Stu Hartley has found a way to combine his love of science with a way to make a living off just 8 hectares of land at Old Bar on the Mid North Coast.
Stu and his wife Adele moved to their property at Old Bar in December 2014 with a dream to live sustainably having both grown up in suburban Sydney and then living and working in Western Australia.
Not deterred with their zero knowledge of farming they started work developing the farm with Adele working casually as a primary school teacher and Stu trying his hand at various jobs while experimenting on the farm with brewing and curing meats.
But what started out as a hobby growing mushrooms for themselves has now turned into a successful business providing full-time employment for Stu and part-time work for Adele.
So successful has been their transition to mushroom growers that this year they won a gold medal in Delicious (Magazine) Produce Awards in the From the Earth category for their oyster mushrooms.
They were nominated for the award by one of their loyal customers Muse Restaurant in Pokolbin in the Hunter Valley. Restaurants have become their main customers.
Trading under the name Mother Fungus Gourmet Mushrooms the business now producers around 100kg of specialist mushrooms each week
The Hartleys opted to grow forestry or gourmet mushrooms which grow in sawdust not the standard compost of the more traditional button mushrooms.
It is mycelium in the sawdust that feeds the mushroom spawn but creating this exact process took Stu a few years too perfect. Using the example of a rainforest where the timber breakdowns and fungi thrives in these moist conditions the moisture and humidity of the growing medium has to be just right for the mushrooms to flourish.
Recently sourcing their usual sawdust became an issue and production slowed but they have now sourced local sawmill products and are back up and running again.
Demand for the mushrooms continued during the COVID-19 lockdown and the couple expect the re-opening of the state will result in an increase in orders from Mid North Coast, Hunter Valley and Sydney restaurants. "We are hoping to expand the business so Adele can join me full-time," he said.
As to the used sawdust - its is like liquid gold and is used on the farm to increase fertility and overall soil condition. "Its great having the farm alongside the mushroom business we simply take the sawdust out into the paddock and spread it especially around the fruit trees," he said.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.