LOSING work during the coronavirus pandemic was the push this Yendon couple needed to follow their dream of establishing a farming business.
Tilly Nelles and Anthony Cribbes started their small farm The Harvest and Co last year, using coffee and food waste from Buninyong businesses to grow mushrooms and make garden product worm tea.
The couple moved to their 16-hectare Yendon property in Victoria almost 13 years ago and said they had always dreamt of using the land for farming.
"It was always our dream to get the property working for us," Ms Nelles said.
"Over the years we have been chipping away at the property, setting it up how we wanted to and exploring what paths we could go down."
Ms Nelles was working as a massage therapist in Daylesford, a bookkeeper and horse breeder and trainer before COVID-19 hit.
Mr Cribbes was an IT consultant in Melbourne and a wedding celebrant.
Most of their work dried up during the pandemic, allowing the time and space to delve into a new venture with a focus on sustainability.
"Our dream had been to get set-up to do gourmet mushrooms but we never had the space because we were sort of like ships passing in the night," Ms Nelles said.
"Anthony would be gone all week and weekends with weddings and I would be off at the horses or doing my work. I think COVID was the opportunity where we thought 'now or never'."
Mr Cribbes said they had registered the business name The Harvest and Co 18 months earlier.
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They woke up one morning during the pandemic and decided to fully commit to creating the business as their next step.
Ms Nelles said the bathroom was the first test grow-room for their gourmet mushrooms, where they grew for themselves and family and friends before expanding to a mini humidified greenhouse in their barn.
The couple already had shipping containers on the farm and worked throughout the pandemic to fit them out to grow mushrooms, including figuring out how to control temperature, humidity and air flow.
"When COVID hit we had to figure that out by ourselves a little bit," Mr Cribbes said.
"We had a high level plan but the actual details of what we needed to make it all work we couldn't find anywhere.
"It was a bit of a process of trial and error and having a go at something, figuring out how that would look to then work out the next stage of the process.
"A lot of the fitout we had to get custom stuff built by a friend of ours. We had to be resourceful."
Mushrooms are commonly grown in large plastic bags, but Mr Cribbes and Ms Nelles are using plastic buckets as a long-term reusable option.
They started growing oyster mushrooms using the bucket method in December and are now selling them at supermarkets in Buninyong and Creswick, Wilsons Fruit and Vegetables and the Gordon Farmgate Shop.
Mr Cribbes approached Buninyong hospitality businesses Maggie and Kate and Red Door Pizzeria in January and began collecting their coffee scraps for growing mushrooms and food waste for the worm farm.
He is creating a worm tea and has started selling it at Avalon Nursery.
"Food waste creates methane which is almost 30 times more harmful for global warming than carbon dioxide," he said.
"When food goes into landfill it breaks down in a very unfriendly way. This is a circular economy."
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