Simon Jones is using spent coffee grounds to produce oyster mushrooms, all grown out of shipping containers on an urban block in Noosa.
Noosa mushroomsEach cluster of oyster mushrooms is deliciously perfect, reminiscent of pink and white coral, which is, interestingly, a substrate for reproduction and source of nutrients for oysters, after which this variety of mushrooms is named. 
While my palate is unable to differentiate mushrooms grown on coffee grounds, like these ones are, and those grown using the more conventional commercial method, local chefs say they can taste a difference and conjure up mouth-watering dishes specifically to hero the ingredient.
Simon Jones from Noosa Earth says coffee grounds are used for two reasons, to reuse what would otherwise be a waste product going to landfill, and to adds nitrogen to the growing process, which the mushrooms love. 
“A lot of hobby growers use coffee as a substrate, but commercial growers usually don’t because it poses a lot of problems with contamination and a lot of mould – mould loves coffee, and the conditions that the mushrooms grow in, mould loves, so we need to be strict with how we handle the coffee and where we get it from,” he says.
Each week, Noosa Earth collects more than 200 litres of spent coffee grounds from various cafes in the area, which is far more than they need and sees 90 per cent turned into compost, processed at Earthborn in Chevallum.
“Once people cottoned onto what we were doing, a lot of the places we deliver the mushrooms to asked if we wanted their coffee grounds. We had more than what we needed and thought of how else we can use it, and because we are focused on creating as little waste as we can and reusing and value-adding with what we have, we decided to turn it into compost,” says Simon.
The 10 per cent used for the mushrooms comes from First Batch in Noosa, who use a compostable knock tube collected by Simon every day. Given the grounds are pasteurised in the coffee-making process, when the hot water runs through it, Simon then has a 24-hour window before the coffee is unusable.
The setup for growing the mushrooms is incredible, with shipping containers used for different stages. This allows Simon and his team to operate from an urban block within an industrial estate in Noosaville, while creating another purpose for the shipping containers, carrying the ethos right through the business.
Simon takes me through each stage of the growing process, starting with soaking barley straw in water and hydrated lime, which pasteurises the straw and kills the mould spores, while retaining the nutrients.
“Pasteurising it is one step down from sterilising it, if we sterilise it we lose all of the nutrients in it that the mushrooms want to grow on,” says Simon.
The straw is soaked for eight hours and drained overnight, ready to be used the next day. Because of the drought, which has made straw harder to obtain because it’s all going to feed, Simon says they’ve been testing the yield of sugar cane mulch as an alternative.
In the bagging room, a trough is then filled with the soaked straw, sprinkled with mushroom spores and coffee grounds, mixed, and bagged. At the moment, they’re using strong plastic bags, which Simon says is the only part of the process he’s unhappy with, and is working on a compostable bag solution – the only setback is mushrooms eat the compostable bags.
“Mushrooms are great at getting rid of waste, that’s what they thrive on,” he says.
Then it’s onto the two main growing rooms, one is an incubation room where there is no ventilation and the Co2 is quite high. The room is also kept at a constant 20ºC and there is no light, providing the perfect environment for mushrooms.
“Slowly, the mushroom mycelium starts to grow and colonises a whole bag. Mycelium is the root, it’s what grows underground in forests and is a big network. Once the bag has been colonised, it does what we call pin, where the mushroom comes through the holes. It takes between 14 and 20 days for that process to happen, it’s quite quick,” says Simon.
“Then in the fruiting room, the conditions become vital because once they reach that stage they start looking for light. You can imagine they’re underneath the forest floor and they want to pop up and look for light, so in this room we have the light on all the time, unless we’re trying to slow their growth down. And we have a big evaporative aircon system, which keeps the humidity nice and high – we don’t like the humidity to get below 95 per cent.”
Within three to four days, the mushrooms will be fully formed and are harvested. The bag is then left in the fruiting room for another 10 to 14 days where it produces a second flush. The spent bags, containing barley straw, coffee and mushroom mycelium are then turned into compost.
At Noosa Earth, they produce between 80kgs and 100kgs of mushrooms a week, specifically pink, tan and grey-coloured oyster mushrooms and they are experimenting with a lion’s mane variety, which is well known for its medicinal benefits in cognitive function, and it has a subtle lobster flavour.
“I love mushrooms, they’re a big part of a well balanced diet – I’ve probably eaten a lot more than I used to,” Simon says with a laugh.
Simon joined Noosa Earth owners, Michael and Rachel Baulch, two years ago, attracted to their local, healthy and sustainable ethos. Having worked front of house and owning a string of restaurants in New South Wales for many years, he moved to the Sunshine Coast seeking a change.
“I was at a point where I felt I’d achieved everything I wanted to in hospitality, and I’d always had an interest in growing, horticulture and food especially and came across an ad for a mushroom farmer,” he says.
While the idea of growing mushrooms on coffee grounds has caused an interesting stir among foodies, Simon says the reason they use coffee grounds is purely because of the sustainable aspect, and it’s something he’s found to be of utmost importance to local chefs.
“There’s a big interest in ethical production of food and it’s great to see that chefs are leading the charge in a lot of ways; whether it be mushrooms or the treatment of the meats they’re using or sustainable fish, all those sorts of things, it’s great that it’s the chefs dictating that, rather than the customers, and then educating the customers,” he says.
“We fit nicely into that category, which is great that that’s how the world is starting to look at things, albeit a little bit too late, but better late than never.” 
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