Ever since attending a school network meeting and becoming inspired by another Agriculture teacher, I have been intrigued by the processes involved in growing gourmet mushrooms. Over the last summer holidays I was able to successfully experiment with growing mushrooms. My experimentation went well but I felt I needed to learn more about the mushroom cultivation process before I would feel competent enough to deliver and transfer my knowledge to students. I was recommended by a number of people to do the Milkwood Permaculture Course.
I procrastinated for quite some time but I finally enrolled this November in a weekend Milkwood Permaculture Gourmet Mushroom Cultivation Workshop which was held in Sydney. Like any teacher at this time of the year I have been juggling marking, reports, burnout and students who feel as tired as I do. Enrolling in the mushroom course sounded good when I enrolled, but heading into Sydney on a Saturday morning trying to be ready for an 8:45 start was very challenging..
The course was held at a great venue in Redfern, complete with a rooftop garden made up of a food forest with an aquaponics system, herbs, vegetables and fruit trees. I would have been just as happy sitting in the garden for the day as anything else.The rooftop area was such a wonderful setting that I only was reminded I was in the city by the blaring of a siren. The amazing venue was partially created by Milkwood Permaculture’s Nick and his partner Kirsten. The garden was created via government funding, crowd funding and private donations. It is a credit to everyone involved.
Nick Ritar, one of the directors of Milkwood, was the course presenter and he was assisted another Milkwood staff member, Heather. The workshop was attended by 25 people who had travelled from Brisbane, Canberra, Jindabyne and Sydney. Half of the attendees were at the workshop hoping to learn how to grow mushrooms so that they could start their own business.Others simply had an interest in the area, while some, like me, were there to improve their knowledge base to aid in the education of students doing Agriculture. The workshop participants were a mixture of ages and the gender breakdown was almost identical. I made the observation that permaculture was no longer attracting only the so-called ‘alternative types’ as it had in years gone by. Today people are interested in what they eat and how it is grown.
The course I attended is held 5 to 6 times a year. Over 500 people have been taught about cultivating gourmet mushrooms and the art form connected to it. The course outline broke down the workshop into 1.5 hour segments. Unlike many courses and even, I must say, staff development days, the workshop kept strictly to time without at any time feeling forced.The fact that I took seventeen pages of notes is testament to the amount and quality of the information provided during the workshop. Added to this the presenter sent a copy of all the resources used to the participants via email.
It was enthralling to investigate the science behind the growing of mushrooms and the detailed information given on the various methods of growing and cultivating home mushrooms was particularly interesting. It was great to hear Nick discuss the cost cutting methods that can be used in production as well as outlining the standard method.
The second day included presentations of various case studies given by past students who had been through the Milkwood Workshops. Many of these were inspiring and it was pleasing to see how small scale production can, in the future, lead to large scale production.
The course included a degree of hands on activities that enabled participants to put into practise their acquired knowledge. Some of these hands on activities included pasteurising bulk substrate using straw, gypsum, hydrated lime and hot water. Inoculating a log with spawn and preparing and inoculating agar. The presenters were approachable at all times and often tailored his delivery to each participant depending on that person’s individual needs and interests.
The venue provided an accessible location with numerous local cafes and eateries available during the lunch break.Tea and coffee was provided throughout the workshop and fresh organic fruit was also on offer during morning and afternoon tea.
We were all given a ready to grow mushroom bag, plates of already spawned agar of different varieties of mushrooms and useful tools to take away.
I walked away from the weekend feeling inspired and full of information. Within 48 hours I received an email with copies of all the presentations, links to suppliers and resources. Did I feel that the course had met my needs? Did I feel better informed and confident in the area? The answer to these questions is without doubt a resounding yes. A couple of days later the complimentary Oyster mushroom bag I was given was fruiting and I have excited students in my classes.
I highly recommend this course and any other course presented by Milkwood Permaculture. The Milkwood Workshop was excellent.