Story & photo Lisa Machin
For Gary Miller, being in the forest instead of being in front of a computer screen was a no-brainer. Five years on, the Northern Rivers community is enjoying the spoils of his diverted attention.
Gary had been working as a software programmer when stress and long hours drove him to seek another path in life, and it was here that mushrooms came calling.
Perched happily behind his stall at the New Brighton Farmers Markets each Tuesday, he’s become a community favourite thanks to his knowledge on all things fungi, as well as his cheery disposition.
‘One of the most consistent pieces of feedback I receive from customers is that we grow some of the most flavoursome mushrooms on offer,’ says Gary.
‘What I can put that down to is that I grow them naturally, out in the forest. Some days they have to hunker down to survive the elements, and that creates a richness in flavour from what they draw from the soil.’
While Gary admits he does a lot more work as a farmer than he did in his software days, he says the satisfaction can’t be matched.
‘I’m out in the forest more, I’m constantly active, I’m my own boss. It feels pretty good to be contributing to a local food chain and I enjoy the whole process of growing mushrooms, especially when it comes time to pick them.’
A gander at the varieties he has on offer is a visual and textural feast – one that often attracts visits from the local chefs of the region.
‘All the mushroom varieties have their individual characteristics,’ says Gary. ‘The white oysters are most common and can get really big, they make people go ‘“Wow! Look at that!” The shimeja mushroom grows in a complete half sphere, upside down, sideways, right way up. And one I have, that is very unusual, and only grows in the dead of winter (if I’m lucky) is the naneko. It’s slimy on top which can turn people off, but it’s absolutely delicious in soups and holds its shape – and is crunchy!’
Gary also grows the native pink oyster, native to Australia, which is quite dark on the top, with an almost luminescent pink glow underneath and beautifully delicate gills.
Drop in to Wollumbin Gourmet Mushrooms to purchase a shiitake log and mushroom kit to grow your own, or chat with Gary about the many varieties he sells.
The New Brighton Farmers Market is on every Tuesday from 8am to 11am, and the Mullumbimby Farmers Market every Friday 7am to 11am.