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Podcast inspires eco-friendly mushroom business

Cedar, Taylor McConnell and Susan Jacobs in one of their grow rooms

From car salesman and bartender, to organic, high end, gourmet mushroom farmers, Susan and Taylor are a young couple in Ohoka who are delivering grow your own kits and a one-stop mushroom shop to New Zealanders. Their story shows that with a little inspiration, life can take you on some exciting, yet unexpected journeys.

If you asked Taylor McConnell and Susan Jacobs what they thought they would be doing for a living five years ago, they can guarantee you that ‘Mushroom Farmer’ would not have made the list.

As we know, life does take some unexpected turns – but not all farming stories begin with a surfing trip and a broken-down car, as it does for this couple.

In early 2017, Susan, then a bartender, travelled to New Zealand on a surfing road trip where her car serendipitously kept breaking down.

Taylor, the young car salesman who sold her the car, was not going to leave her stranded. Following a series of phone calls and a car swap, Taylor and Susan became a couple.

Taylor went to visit Susan in her hometown in Florida, before they travelled around the States together.

After another series of unlucky events with their car breaking down, they decided it was a sign to head back to New Zealand and settle down.

They moved onto Taylor’s parents’ farm in Ohoka and started helping around the farm for work while they tried to figure out what they wanted to do.

It wasn’t until they listened to a Joe Rogan podcast about mushrooms that Taylor and Susan thought, “it’d be pretty cool to do that for living”.

Four years later they are full-scale organic gourmet mushroom farmers.

Learning through trial and error

They say the first year and a half were “pretty tough”. It was all about setting up infrastructure and learning through trial and error how to become farmers.

They began succeeding at growing specialised high end, gourmet mushrooms for local restaurants, markets, and shops. And they have now expanded their business to include grow your own kits so people at home can replicate their farm in a tiny version.

“Encouraging and supporting people to grow their own food aligns with our lifestyle and views so it’s really awesome to be able to help people in this way,” says Susan.

Grow your own mushrooms

Looking around the Spore Shift farm, and listening to them talk about all things mushroom, it is hard to imagine that they knew nothing about them prior to listening to the podcast.

Their knowledge and set up is impressive, especially for a couple who learnt everything from scratch.

They now have two grow rooms with humidifiers, a lab and sterilisation room, distribution and sorting room as well as an outdoor area for log mushrooms and a garden for mushrooms that grow outdoors.

Although it is proving difficult to import some of the materials they need, Covid has increased their production in areas they didn’t expect.

“While there’s been an obvious reduction in selling to restaurants,” says Taylor, “We have found a spike in sales in our grow your own mushroom kits.

“Everything that the mushrooms grow in is sterilised and organic, so you don’t need to worry about the potential for contamination from the animal waste found in the traditional compost that grows commercial mushrooms,” says Taylor.

Health benefits

Susan and Taylor also explain that, not only is growing your own mushrooms rewarding, and great for the environment, but they have many health benefits as well.

Some can be immunotherapeutic, anti-cancerous, improve gut issues and can help improve cognition and memory.

“There are so many health benefits to gourmet mushrooms. Each different variety produces different health outcomes. There’s just so much to know and learn about mushrooms,” says Susan.

A variety of Spore Shift’s healthy gourmet mushrooms

Taylor and Susan kindly gave me a grow kit and I have to say I could not wait to try it.

Although I am not a keen gardener, I cannot deny there is something wholly satisfying about cooking something you have grown yourself.

Growing mushrooms, however, was never even a consideration.

If you asked me last week if I would be growing my own mushrooms, I would have definitely told you, “No”.

Yet here I am, waiting, watching, excited.

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