Nikki Shone has spent most of her life living here on the Coffs Coast and as an adventurous and curious person, she has delved into many different career paths.
She has studied both horticulture and small business management, and is now using those skills to run Fungus Humongous Gourmet Mushrooms – her one-woman business where she grows, harvests and distributes her chemical-free gourmet mushroom varieties. Here she tells us all about what she grows, her vision, and how it all came to be.
Hi Nikki. How did you come to live and work here on the Coffs Coast?
I was born and raised in the Coffs region, and I have lived in just about every suburb around here. My father is a designer/builder in the local area, so we moved around a lot growing up. I love exploring new skills and trades, and subsequently I have delved into many different careers. I’ve been a SCUBA Instructor, licensed skipper, first-aid trainer, horticulturist, and even a gelato scooper! I’ve caught the travel bug many times, but have always returned humbled – there is definitely no place like home.
Can you tell us about some of the mushroom varieties you grow?
I grow a wide range of oyster mushrooms season to season, and this allows me to produce all year round. In the warmer months I grow varieties like pink, yellow and tan, and in the winter – blue, grey, white and Phoenix oyster mushrooms are available. Other gourmet fungi include King Oyster, Poplar, Shiitake logs (to grow your own) and even a strain of Oyster Mushroom found growing wild in the Northern Rivers. I will soon be cultivating some varieties that are known to have substantial health properties, such as “Lions Mane”, a nootropic that has remarkable effects on brain function and is being trialled in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. Beneficial mushrooms like these are popular in the US, Europe and Asia, but have only recently become recognised in Australia.
What sets you apart from other mushroom growers?
Well, as a one-woman show, I run every facet of this unique small business, and I’m proud to say that Fungus Humongous is free of all single-use plastics! It’s common practice in the industry to grow gourmet mushrooms in large disposable plastic bags, and even the spawn is cultivated in heavy duty plastic. Instead, I have repurposed food-grade buckets and stacked them into towers, and spawn is cultivated in glass mason jars.
To ensure the mushrooms are grown in a chemical-free environment, I use steam and elbow grease to clean, and all packaging used is from recycled paper and cardboard. Due to the locality, mushrooms can be grown to order and delivered on the same day they are picked. Fungus Humongous is striving to be completely self-sufficient, catching its own rainwater and practicing a closed loop system – where the mushrooms are grown on a what would otherwise be waste product and returned to the environment as compost.
How did you come to grow mushrooms? What sparked your interest in this in particular?
After working on the water both in Coffs Harbour and the Great Barrier Reef for over seven years, I really felt drawn to work on the land. Retiring my sea legs, I took a course in horticulture – an old passion of mine. Anyone who knows me knows that I am an insatiably curious person. I might not know where I put my keys, but I do know how crumpets are made and that wombats poop cubes!
One night, I had a sudden realisation that I had no idea how mushrooms were grown commercially. I stayed up all night watching video after video, scrolling through forums, and by the morning – I was hooked. I began growing Oyster Mushrooms armed with a bucket, some mulch, an esky, a sink plug, and a fish tank heater. Before long, my room was full of buckets, and I was dashing home from work to check on their progress, and that’s when I thought, “I have to make this my full-time job!” I enrolled in a Cert IV in small business management, where I assessed the viability of my idea; I dived in headfirst, and Fungus Humongous was born.
Can you tell us a bit about the process of growing mushrooms?
It begins with mycelium (root structure of the mushroom) grown on to grain and then expanded into larger quantities to make mushroom spawn. I use 100% certified organic sugar cane mulch as substrate; it’s a fantastic food source for Oyster Mushrooms and readily available as waste from the sugar industry. Once the substrate is prepared, mushroom spawn is added and mixed by hand, then packed into clean buckets with holes drilled in the sides. After incubating in a dark, dry and warm room, the mushrooms begin to emerge from the holes looking for light, oxygen and cool, humid air. However, even with the perfect environment, fungi are fickle and unpredictable. Weather, temperature, season and even the moon phase influences the way they grow, but if you are lucky and the stars align – you can literally watch them grow before your eyes!
There is quite an interesting story about the semi trailer you grow your mushrooms in; can you tell us about that?
Yes, I grow all my mushrooms in a semi trailer! In another life it was a live-in roadshow carnival truck. It travelled Australia with the whole family onboard, showing their games, toys and prizes and was abandoned for years in SA before landing itself a new owner – a local resident of Bonville. With grand plans of turning it into a granny flat on wheels, the project sat on the backburner, until the owner regretfully put it up for sale. As a twist of fate, I was just about to purchase a shipping container for the mushroom farm the very same day that I saw the advertisement. It took a whole team of my incredible friends and family to help renovate it into a insulated, sealed and hygienic growing space, and now the old carnival truck has a new lease on life as a mobile fungi farm –
Where can we find out more?
0431 069 991