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The future of farming is diversification says Jo Corrigan – Mushrooms Anonymous

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Jo and her partner Matt Donnelley are two ex-chefs/restaurateurs who have turned a love of foraging and growing into a thriving business. It’s been five years since they swapped an inner-city life for the beautiful Macedon Ranges, quickly becoming an integral part of the community.

‘That word community is such an interesting one. During this whole pandemic, the people surrounding you that you may not know are your community. So, when you’re riding the same tram at the same time every morning, you’re seeing the same faces. You might not know them but they’re your community.

I think throughout this pandemic, country people had the basis of community and they’ve been able to keep that. City people lost the little bit they did have.

‘We were so grateful to be adopted into this community here in Romsey so quickly. People, when they found out we were here, looked out for us and said hello. They dropped a note into the letterbox if they bought plants from us somewhere.’

Jo takes a moment to reflect on the journey from restaurateur to farmer.  ‘Becoming a farmer was a long road. We’re no strangers to problems because we’ve had to make a lot of decisions under pressure. The restaurant was an excellent training ground.’

‘There are always economic difficulties with supplying restaurants. A lot of farmers speak about it but we feel a duty to plan around that so we can give restaurants – last year and this year – a little bit longer to pay. Having sold the restaurant (The Commoner) in 2016, it’s a really strange feeling watching our comrades go through all of this. Viability of restaurants is a massive deal. It’s a terrible economic model.’

We ask Jo how Covid has impacted the business (without once using the word pivot). ‘We’re making slightly different decisions about what we put into the ground. I’ve heard other farmers say they’re not going to grow as much. We’re growing the same amount; we will simply diversify and find more markets for what we grow. We are also working with the people that we currently grow with to build a farmgate so that locals have access to what we do without adding more fuel miles.

‘We’ve diversified into more retail and making sure people know they can get our stuff from there. Andrew McConnell’s retail outlets (and his restaurants) are a huge supporter of ours. We tell them what we’re finding, what we have and they work with us to make it into a retail offering. It’s added to the diversification of our business which I think is the key for the future for farmers.

‘The biggest change for us was the Farmers Markets inviting us in. They actually called us and said – are you okay? – which was amazing. They said we’re looking out for growers. We’re going to need more growers because Farmers Markets will stay open. We hadn’t done them before the pandemic. Every single thing that we were growing went there and it all sold.

‘The Farmers Markets has a huge following. It’s an incredibly safe environment. They’ve worked really, really hard on keeping those farmers markets safe and they’re open-air events. Matt and I cook at Farmers Markets now. We cook delicious things we used to serve in the restaurants. It’s filled a little hole because we’re just aching so much for restaurants right now.’

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.


THE DETAILS

WHAT: Mushrooms Anonymous
WHERE: Selected farmers markets and retails outlets
MORE INFO: Mrsmushroom and Mushroomsanon

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