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The History of The Old Mushroom Farm: Evolution From Fungi to Flourish

Updated: May 10

Unearth the transformation of The Old Mushroom Farm. Read about its agricultural roots and evolution to a dynamic artisanal hub just 10 minutes from Howick on 11 Karkloof Road, KZN Midlands. From humble beginnings to a vibrant community space, explore the fusion of history and modernity at TOMF, where every corner tells a tale of creativity, resilience, and reinvention.

History of The Old Mushroom Farm

As the name suggests, The Old Mushroom Farm was once a site of mycelial propagation for commercial agricultural purposes- growing white button mushrooms by the ton. A distinct smell of rich compost filled the air, the growing tunnels were damp and dark, and the paths were bustling with forklifts and gumbooted staff.

Aerial view of The Old Mushroom Farm, KZN Midlands

These days the aromas wafting from the tunnels are much more appealing- those of freshly baked bread, coffee, and hand milled soap. Moreover, there is a different kind of bustle- like an eternal Saturday morning buzz.

But let's rewind to the farming days. Nick Crooks (still the current owner) bought the farm in 1990 and established Daybreak Mushrooms. The previous property owners had been mushroom farmers, so the land came with all the growing tunnels and farm buildings you see today. Nick was simply passionate about growing things. He had little to no farming background, and taught himself everything he knows about propagating mushrooms on a large scale- no small feat.

In its prime, Daybreak Mushrooms employed around 50 people, and produced 4,5 tonnes of mushrooms a week. Farm sheds were stacked with hay bales and heaps of chicken manure to make compost. The Growing tunnels were warm and steamy, with stacks of growing beds from ceiling to floor.

After around 20 years of mushroom growing, Nick decided that change was needed and took a hiatus to study fine art at UKZN, where he completed his masters. Meanwhile, the business Daybreak Mushrooms was sold and consequently folded some years later. Nick held on to the property, however, renting it in the meantime as storage space.

It was during this period that inspiration sparked and Nick decided to do something with the derelict farm buildings. Numerous exciting examples of repurposed old buildings were popping up in cities across the globe. The mushroom farm lay dormant, and Nick saw the potential for new life to be breathed into the space. Nick's vision was for a people-oriented space- a place for artisans to work in community, a retreat from the pressure of urban living, a point of access to outdoor experiences.

Driven by his new vision, Nick got stuck in- starting with the cottages (previously used as staff housing) and larger houses (previously used as admin blocks) on the farm. Many of the farm buildings had fallen into disrepair and there was lots of sprucing up to do. But our 'old mushroom farmer' is a man of many talents. Nick's previous training in architecture came in handy- having studied architecture after school and working in the field locally as well as overseas he was equipped for the challenge.

With a lot of elbow grease, and the help of his wife Mandy, the staff housing on the property got its facelift- Nick on construction and fittings and Mandy on furnishing and gardens. The houses were converted into units for self catering accommodation- feeding the demand for countryside holiday and weekend getaways in the Midlands. The accommodation business got going around 2016 and ran for a good few years on its own until The Old Mushroom Farm with shops and restaurants (as we now know it) was established.

During 2019 progress was being made on renovating the ex-mushroom growing tunnels with the intention of opening up retail spaces for artisans and small business to operate from. Large glass and steel doors were installed on the ends of the tunnels, beaming in sunlight and fresh air, and a covered central walkway was built between the two rows of growing tunnels.The Old Mushroom Farm was ready for its proverbial butcher, baker and candlestick maker.

In 2020 (just before the COVID 19 lockdown) the first few businesses opened their doors, including HomeSlice Cafe, Activ8 Performance, and Rock Paper Scissors. Above pictured is the renovation done to the old double garage, now home to Exploring Coffee Country Cafe. Despite the challenges we all faced during the pandemic, The Old Mushroom farm continued to adapt and grow, with entrepreneurs bringing new life to the converted buildings. Now (2024), four years later, all of the tunnels are occupied by local independent businesses including an apartment, shops, eateries, photography studio, artisan factories, and an event venue.

(Look out for our tenant interviews in future blog posts).

More recent renovations include the big farm shed conversion to & Kin conference venue and event space (pictured above), and a section of growing rooms to the Boutique Apartments for holiday rental (pictured below). These work well in combination- catering to a demand for an excellent Midlands conference venue near Howick which also includes accommodation for event guests. And that's not the end! There are still more disused growing tunnels at the bottom of the property and endless potential in Nick's imagination to breathe life back into these empty shells.

(Look out for more architectural stories of specific buildings in future blog posts).

Interestingly, despite all this development over the history of The Old Mushroom Farm, the building footprint of the farm hasn't changed. Nick has simply worked with what already existed- and thus not having a further impact on housing encroachment on the natural environment. Additionally, Nick's interest in growing things extends beyond farming. Rewilding of the natural spaces on the property has been encouraged and wildlife is frequently spotted. Nick has been diligently removing alien invasive plants from streams and grassland, and has planted an indigenous forest in the valley.

Now that you know the history of The Old Mushroom Farm, we invite you to come and explore for yourself! Visit for the day and explore the shops, eateries, walking trail, fitness facility, catch a show, or pick veggies in the garden. Or stay a little longer and book a holiday in one of our newly renovated boutique apartments for you and your family.

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