Publish date: 18/09/2019

A new exotic mushroom farm in Loburn is planning an eight-fold expansion in order to keep up with demand for its produce.

Woodland Downs Produce, a vertical farm producing spray-free shiitake mushrooms, started operating in mid-2019 but owner Millen Wood says demand has increased so rapidly that he is already planning his next move.

“Demand is growing and we are quadrupling our output to keep up. We are in the process of increasing our farm four-fold and then we will double that.”

Despite operating on a 4ha block, Millen has the ability to significantly increase his operation due to the vertical style of his farm.

“Vertical farming means that instead of farming a crop in a field you instead farm on shelves or towers. For me, a high intensity vertical farm was the only option I considered because our property is not big. If we practiced traditional agriculture on such a small area, in five years’ time the land would be ruined. The way we have done it is by placing the vertical farm mostly inside the farmyard and therefore still have 99% of our farmland unused by the mushroom production.”

Millen says the environmental benefits of vertical farming were also a big drawcard.

“The main reason I have chosen to build the farm the way we have is to prove that farming doesn’t have to create pollution and, in fact, can clean up pollution and improve the environment.

“We use very little water and the water we do use is not contaminated by pesticides, herbicides or fungicides because we don’t need to use any. In addition, our farm can improve the production of a secondary crop, use a waste product to produce food, capture and store greenhouse gases and produce native trees.”

Millen says demand for his product has grown primarily due to the quality and taste of the mushrooms.

“I believe the reason there is so much demand for our product is the freshness and that we are spray free, as well as the flavour. Everyone tells us that our shiitake are delicious.

We have had fantastic feedback from chefs who really enjoy using fresh locally grown ingredients.”

At present, approximately 50% of Millen’s sales are to restaurants, with the remainder to individual consumers who buy directly from Millen through collaborative buying groups.  

His expansion plans will include the addition of new varieties of mushrooms.

“New Zealand is finally ready for a greater variety of mushrooms on their plate.”