Marita Smith runs Milton Mushrooms, a business dedicated to getting people growing, cooking and eating more mushrooms!
When Marita was a burnt-out science graduate she travelled to Europe and found herself living and working on organic farms.
“[It] was really amazing, I got to see people growing food and living this very different life to this one-track mind of academia,” she said.
On her return to Australia, she started growing food on the family property and running a market garden for a local restaurant. Her new bosses sent her off on a mushroom course and a new passion for ‘shrooming’ was born.
A small-scale growing system – which Marita jokes is her “little secret laboratory” – allowed her to start supplying restaurants and farmers markets on an ad hoc basis, but it was difficult to get a regular supply without investing in more commercial equipment which is often resource heavy.
“A big issue with mushroom growing is the need for things to be sterile so on a large scale you do need to use a lot of plastic, and some of that is new plastic,” Marita explained.
“We do need that sterility to make sure you’re growing just the mushroom you want, and not the botrytis that colonised your fruit bowl.”
So Marita started searching for a more sustainable way to run her business. After a foray into medicinal mushrooms like reishi and lion’s mane, Marita scaled down her own growing to focus on education.
Milton Mushrooms now runs workshops where they teach people to make their own ‘grow kits’ from recycled and repurposed materials. Big fetta or yoghurt buckets from cafes make an ideal container, along with cardboard and sugarcane. The workshops and their social media posts encourage people to get excited about using mushrooms in their everyday life.
“We’re just bringing the mushrooms to the people and giving them that bit more confidence in growing, cooking and even identifying them,” she said.
“But we always say, if you have any doubts at all about a wild mushroom, don’t eat it!”
Marita was emphatic about the dangers of improper identification, and urged people to never eat a mushroom that hadn’t been identified by an expert.
“Caution is exactly the attitude you want to be going in with. You don’t want to be going in arrogantly or cockily thinking you know exactly what something is because mushrooms have lookalikes at all stages of growth.
“I always like to stress that foraging for mushrooms is a dangerous activity and it’s something you really need to be careful about.”
Milton Mushrooms make educational zines informing people about mushrooms in different areas. Marita says that learning more about the mushrooms growing in your neighbourhood can be especially interesting because they grow much faster than plants. Looking out for interesting ‘shrooms’ can be an accessible way to be more aware of the natural world and can change your perspective.
“It’s almost like when you buy a new car and start noticing them a lot more because your brain is so attuned to them existing … it’s like your search parameters have been reset!”