The daily grind
Fremantle is not the first place that comes to mind when developing a commercial mushroom farm, but this trendy, vibrant, coffee lover’s paradise has proven to be an ideal location for growing fungi.
Life Cykel, the company behind the project, has been using local waste coffee grinds to sustainably produce oyster mushrooms on a commercial scale.
To date, Life Cykel has diverted in excess of 8420kg of coffee waste from Fremantle cafés and restaurants to grow more than 1040kg of oyster mushrooms, which are sold to local restaurants.
The project is the brainchild of Ryan Creed and Julian Mitchell, who have both spent their working life helping to improve the health of others in a variety of settings.
Mr Creed said it was while working with Mr Mitchell for Rio Tinto in Paraburdoo that the pair were inspired to develop a business that would encourage people to grow their own food sustainably.
“Julian and I were working as health and wellness officers for Rio Tinto. We were involved in a community vegetable patch challenge in Paraburdoo that really got us thinking about encouraging more people to become involved in growing their own food,” he said.
Mr Creed said spreading the knowledge of how to grow food was a key goal of Life Cykel.
“We are about growing superfoods with simplicity,” he said.
“I’ve always thought that once you’re in a position where you can grow all your own food, you know you have made it in life. For me, it’s a lot like meditating.”
Mr Creed’s passion for healthy eating and lifestyle is obvious. Growing up in the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria, he has always had a home vegetable patch.
An early interest in elite football led him down the path of studying exercise science in Melbourne and, since graduating, Mr Creed has been dedicated to improving the health of others in a range of ways.
With access to quality organic and fresh produce often being an obstacle for those trying to achieve optimum health, he said one of the simplest ways to rectify this was to encourage people to learn how to grow their own food sustainably.
After a great deal of research into developing a sustainable food production project, Mr Creed and Mr Mitchell discovered that waste coffee grounds could be a good substrate to grow oyster mushrooms.
With no background in farming or knowledge of mushroom production, the pair learnt by trial and error.
Mr Creed said the process had not been without its headaches, and it took more than 12 months of hard work to perfect the art and science behind growing oyster mushrooms and to get the project to a commercial level.
“Coffee waste is not the easiest substrate to cultivate mushrooms from but it provides a high nutrient profile and the right pH,” he said.
Recycling coffee grinds also helps to reduce the serious impact of this waste material in landfill sites around the world.
While there is much publicised criticism of the detrimental impact coffee farming is having on the environment on a global scale, at the other end of the production cycle coffee grounds also contribute significant greenhouse gas emissions. As coffee grounds decompose they produce methane, a greenhouse gas that has more than 20 times the global warming capacity of carbon dioxide.
Currently, Life Cykel uses an average of 350kg of coffee grinds per week to grow 100kg of fresh oyster mushrooms. Their produce is used by local restaurants and they sell grow-your-own mushroom boxes.
The first commercial mushrooms were grown in March this year, making Life Cykel the first commercial oyster mushroom farm in a CBD area in Australia.
All coffee grounds are collected from Fremantle cafés and taken to Life Cykel’s Fremantle-based production area, which comprises several sea containers where the magic of making mushrooms begins.
Mr Creed said there was a lot of “mysticism” when it came to growing mushrooms, but it was one of the aspects of this project they hoped would help draw interest.
“The most important aspect of the business is connecting Australians to the magic of growing their own superfood with simplicity. For fresher gourmet mushrooms, just spray, eat and repeat,” he said.
While the commercial production of mushrooms is a big part of the business, so too is the development of take-home mushroom kits to enable people to experience growing their own produce.
Life Cykel is also encouraging Australian primary schools to include growing mushrooms in their curriculum.
“We are providing interested primary schools with lesson plans on how mushrooms grow. They are not a plant but a fungus and for many this is a process they do not understand,” Mr Creed said.
Life Cykel also provides primary schools and other groups with oyster mushroom boxes for fundraising, making a healthier alternative to other fundraising activities, such as selling chocolates.
“Funds raised from selling mushroom kits can be used by schools to build sustainable projects such as school vegetable patches,” Mr Creed said.
So far, this initiative has been adopted by nine WA primary schools in the past three months.
On average, 70 mushroom kit boxes have sold per school, with some selling up to 150 boxes.
The potential for mushroom growing to become a nationwide practice in classrooms is huge.
Mr Creed said Life Cykel’s aim was to help Australia’s future generations learn about the importance of mushrooms, growing food sustainably and adopting healthy eating practices.
He said it was important to point out that the project would not have been possible without the support of the Fremantle City Council and crowdfunding opportunities.
Initially, Life Cykel raised a total of $30,000 with the City of Fremantle in 2015, and then $32,000 in Melbourne in September this year.
Mr Creed said while they were novices when it came to crowdfunding, they had received a great amount of support from the Fremantle City Council to get the business started.
He said it was also important to recognise the company’s part owners, Nick and Jane Outhwaite.
“Nick and Jane got us over the line in our first crowdfunding event,” Mr Creed said. “Both then worked for us for free for four months while the business was getting established.”
Mr Creed said the Outhwaites had been a vital aspect of the business from the start, and Mr Outhwaite had become a business partner and now managed production.
“We did rely on volunteer workers to get started, now we have a total of three paid employees,” he said.
Both Mr Creed and Mr Mitchell left their full-time fly-in, fly-out jobs with Rio Tinto earlier this year. They are now focused on developing their business full time.
Mr Creed said while initially he and Mr Mitchell worked in every aspect of the business, their roles had become more defined.
Mr Mitchell now works on farm expansion around the country, as well as spawn production and improving production methods, while Mr Creed focuses on marketing and sales and managing their social media presence.
While the business it in its early days, production has expanded beyond Fremantle to the Margaret River property of Sandy Oman and Louise Bentley. Innoculated mushrooms from Fremantle are delivered to the farm weekly.
Mr Creed said Margaret River had proved to be the perfect location for expanding production, with many local restaurants keen to be involved with the project.
“Life Cykel oyster mushrooms can now be found on the menus of restaurants in Margaret River, including Vasse Felix, Swings, Piari and Co, Morries, Rustico, Olio Bello, Miki’s Open Kitchen, Knee Deep and the Black Brewing Co,” he said.
Plans are also under way to replicate production in both Melbourne and Noosa, Queensland. Production in Melbourne is not far off, with a successful crowdfunding event completed and development of farm facilities in motion.
Life Cykel mushrooms will also be on the menus of restaurants in Noosa in the next two months.
For information on the project, go to lifecykel.com.au or look up Life Cykel on Facebook or Instagram.
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