This Ballarat green thumb is helping drive the growing popularity of alternative mushroom varieties in Ballarat, Melbourne and beyond - all from a lab on his parent's property in Scotchman's Lead.
Mushroom grower Jason Crosbie began selling mushrooms commercially through his business The Mushroom Connection in 2017, specialising in lesser known varieties lion's mane, oyster and Shiitake Mushrooms.
The business stemmed from a fascination with mushrooms and growing them as a hobby for the previous six years.
People were really interested every time I showed them what I was doing and were interested in buying them.Jason Crosbie, The Mushroom Connection
Recognition of a gap in the local market drove his decision to set up as a business.
"I noticed there were not many people growing mushrooms in Australia. There was a niche that wasn't filled," he said.
"There seems to be a trend now that people are more conscious of what they are eating and looking for locally grown organic produce.
"People were really interested every time I showed them what I was doing and were interested in buying them."
Mr Crosbie sold his block of land and switched from working full time to part time at IBM to set up The Mushroom Connection.
He now produces around 30 kg of mushrooms each week and supplies to restaurants, cafes, farm gates and wholesalers in Ballarat, Daylesford and Melbourne.
Demand is strong for the mushrooms that many of his customers had never seen before Mr Crosbie first approached them.
He is planning to expand his operation to meet the growing demand for the alternate varieties, particularly the lion's mane which is recognised for its delicious flavour and medicinal properties.
The mushroom is now being used in trials for treating and preventing cognitive disorders like Alzheimers and Dementia.
"These are probably the most popular mushroom at the moment. I have 20 kg of them going to Melbourne a week," Mr Crosbie said.
On a visit to The Mushroom Connection, it is clear mushroom growing is a specific, almost scientific and labor intensive process.
Mr Crosbie explains mushrooms breathe in oxygen (unlike other plants that breathe in carbon dioxide), need to grow in high humidity and certain temperatures.
"If a fan dies you have to get on to it straight away or a whole batch is ruined," he said.
"I have cameras set up in the grow room so I can monitor it and see if anything goes wrong."
The process of growing begins several months before the mushrooms are ready for sale.
The first step is to prepare substrates, sterilise them and then inoculate them with mushroom spawn. Different species are kept in the incubation room for varying periods of time before they are moved into the neighbouring grow room.
Of the varieties at The Mushroom Connection, Shiitake mushrooms take the longest to grow, spending three months in the incubation period compared to two weeks for oyster mushrooms.
"Mushrooms are really prone to contamination from mould so you have to be really sanitary and make sure the bags are sterilised," Mr Cosbie said.
"The lab is temperature and humidity controlled."
Mr Crosbie is working to grow his capacity to produce more mushrooms and hopes to sell at farmers markets in the future.
The Mushroom Connection will be a part of new web directory Eat, Drink, West that is expected to launch in coming months.
The Eat Drink West website will provide details of a producer's location, opening hours, website link and map, along with the dining venues which include the produce on their menus.
The aim of the Ballarat initiative is to promote the region's producers and connect them to chefs, venues and consumers.
Email email@example.com with expressions of interest or visit www.eatdrinkwest.com.au.