Mushrooms, a garage and five Leeds lads
The Yorkshire Mushroom Emporium lads are currently based in a custom-built urban farm one mile from the centre of Leeds, on York Road. However, their mushroom adventure had much more humble beginnings. A double garage in Ilkley, a couple of grow tents, and a vision dreamt up on a lockdown walk is how it all started.
Their inspiration came from a variety of sources, but the real lightbulb moment came when visiting community food projects in Leeds such as Kirkstall and Meanwood Valley Farms, during Christmas in 2020. The way these small projects were able to grow delicious and nutritious food in a sustainable and regenerative fashion impressed the lads so much they decided to try their hand at it.
Their first problem was agreeing on a starting idea. Allotments, indoor hydroponic farms, a café using only food they had grown themselves, they cried, “how hard can it be to get some land and start your own farm?”. After some time and realisation, the answer to that last question was extremely hard. Nevertheless, it soon all fell into place when Niall spotted an online course about growing mushrooms indoors.
The method Yorkshire Mushroom Emporium use is known as ‘low-tech mushroom farming’. It does not require any specialist equipment and can be grown in a space of any size, vertically on shelving units. After some additional research which mostly involved watching Americans on YouTube, the lads decided to make their first foray into food production.
After some home experimentation, they got their first big break. Callum had persuaded his Mum to give them a 12-month lease of her garage rent-free. The deal involved keeping everything tidy and supplying her with fresh mushrooms whenever requested!
The garage required some modifications which put their degrees in science and engineering to good use. By May 2021 the farm was fully functional, and they were ready to start growing. They started off supplying small amounts of Shiitake, Lions Mane, and a wide variety of Oysters to cafés and restaurants in Ilkley and Leeds and also attended their first farmer’s markets selling fresh mushrooms and Grow Your Own Mushrooms kits. Like most businesses today, an online presence is essential, and it was through this they got their second stroke of luck…
A researcher for South Shore Production company stumbled upon the Yorkshire Mushroom Emporium Instagram page while hunting for participants for a new BBC 2 TV series: The Hairy Bikers Go Local. The show focuses on helping restaurants find fantastic local suppliers to work with. The boys ticked all the boxes, even though they owned the smallest farm to ever make a TV appearance. After months of nefarious-looking operations, involving respirator masks, strange lighting, and lots of grow tents, the Hairy Bikers arrived, which immediately put all the neighbours’ worries to bed.
After filming with the Hairy Bikers and some phenomenal feedback from their customers the Yorkshire Mushroom Emporium team had the momentum, they needed: it was time to move on from the garage and upscale their operation. Instead of entertaining an intermediate step, they decided to put their money where their mouths were. They went large and decided to build their own customised farm in Leeds, so they could be closer to the businesses they would be supplying. There were more than a few bumps in the road during the set-up of the new farm, but they have now fully settled in (just in time for the release of the Hairy Bikers episode, which aired in the middle of January on BBC2).
2023 promises to be a big year for the lads, who hope to be able to offer more products to businesses and establish several locations where anyone can purchase their own delicious mushrooms in and around Leeds.
Grow your own mushrooms from Yorkshire Mushroom Emporium
Have you ever wanted to grow your own mushrooms? Now is your chance!
Yorkshire Mushroom Emporium are offering a generous 25% discount to readers of THAT LEEDS MAG.
Use code LEEDSMAGMUSH
*Valid until 31st May 2023