Start-up program helps urban farmer push the button

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This time last year, Kyle Quinn was living on the Sunshine Coast working as an Osteopath. 

Today, the self-proclaimed “fun-gi” is in the process of scaling up his new South Warrnambool mushroom enterprise with support from the AgriFood Evolution program.

AgriFood Evolution is a program to help food and agriculture businesses fast-track their innovative ideas and bring them to market.

After moving to Warrnambool to join his partner, who is originally from the area, Kyle took part in a workshop about growing mushrooms at home.

“It just went from there. We were just growing mushrooms for home use and I thought ‘I reckon I can give this a crack and see how we go,’” he said.

“We’re working on an urban-based mushroom growing business providing fresh, seasonal, local mushrooms.

“I’ve set up a makeshift cool room in my garage.”

Agrifood Evolution is a 12 week program supported by the Federal Government’s Food Innovation Australia Limited and delivered by industry experts Beanstalk in partnership with the Warrnambool City, Moyne, Corangamite, Southern Grampians and Glenelg Shire Councils.

Beanstalk Project Facilitator Phoebe Norman said that while COVID-19 has produced serious challenges for many businesses, it had also created new opportunities.

“In this cohort there have been some really great stories that have come off the back of being forced to stop and have that opportunity to look at their business and how they can progress forward,” she said.

“Without programs like this, it can take years to test, fail, excel, fail again and so on. But we’re trying to get them to look at the steps they need to take and give them the ability to move forward and scale up as fast as they can.”

Warrnambool Mayor Cr Vicki Jellie said that Council was proud to partner in the initiative.

“Programs like AgriFood Evolution, as well as Connecting with Asia which has a tourism focus, they are as much about creating networks between businesses as they are about introducing them to new ideas and methodologies,” she said.

“The information about understanding your customer and marketing your product is invaluable, but so is having the chance to learn about other businesses looking to take innovative approaches in order to grow.”

And that’s a sentiment echoed by Warrnambool’s newest mushroom farmer.

“For me, the biggest thing has just been the networking and being able to catch up with everyone has just been amazing,” Mr Quinn said.

“Some of the growth curves have been pretty steep but I think having support like this and knowing that some of the challenges I’m experiencing aren’t unique to me has really helped.”

Other businesses involved in the program include: AD & CF Jenkins, Drakes Fresh Produce, Berry World, Grampians Food Co, Keayang Maar Vineyard, Kiss&Run, Nistel Farms, Suffoir Winery Brewery and Distillery, Windairy and Woolvie Jerseys - Golden Girls Organics.