Inspiration . Connections . Information

Photo by: East Oxford Farmers Market

Oxford couple grow shiitakes and oysters in converted shipping containers.

Lee Timermanis and his partner Rajo Taylor-Smith had a dream of setting up their own smallholding to grow organic local food and, when they found a gap in Oxford’s market for exotic mushrooms, they seized the opportunity.

Since mid-2017, the couple has been growing shiitake and oyster varieties in two converted shipping containers about a mile from their home in Oxford’s Jericho neighbourhood, selling them at local farmers’ markets and direct to local restaurants.

The idea came from Rajo, who upon finishing her fine art degree was wondering how she would make a living. Through her part-time work in a food cooperative, she recognised there was an unmet local demand for exotic mushrooms.

Lee, who had been a NHS support worker for adults with learning disabilities for several years, was also ready for a change, and so the couple decided to take the plunge.

exotic mushrooms 1

“It seemed an obvious choice for us because we are both passionate about organic local food,” Lee said.

They used “fairly minimal” capital from their own savings to buy the shipping containers which were already equipped for food production by their previous owner, the Ministry of Defence. With the addition of some plumbing and electrical equipment such as misters and humidity-control units, the containers started their new lives as mushroom factories and by the end of the year were producing 40-50 kg a week.

That’s about a tenth of their capacity and demand has been better than expected, but Lee and Rajo, who do all the work themselves, are taking care not to bite off more than they can chew. “We’re going to grow incrementally rather than taking on too much,” Lee said.   

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