It was shortly after Andrew Dickinson’s mushrooms were blessed by a vicar that they stopped growing altogether.
Mr Dickinson, the owner of Croydon Urban Mushrooms farm, had invited the interim vicar of Croydon Minster to bless the mushrooms after the same vicar blessed the pumps at a local pub.
“I felt that this kind of eccentricity is right up my street, so I got to know this vicar and I said would you like to bless this site and he said that he would love to,” he said.
One Saturday morning, a service was held at the minster before the man known as ‘Croydon’s coolest vicar’ and his congregation wandered to the mushroom farm for tea, coffee and biscuits.
“The vicar said a few words and went round with his holy water and the incense burner and saying all these blessings around the site.
“That was the weird thing: I started running into problems sometime after that. The mushrooms stopped growing!”
But it is not all bad news for Mr Dickinson and his mushrooms.
In February, he was announced as the winner of the non-professional category of the Reimagine Croydon Subways competition, taking home a £500 prize.
The competition called for members of the public to submit their ideas on how to renovate six unused subways in Croydon town centre.
Mr Dickinson’s subterranean mushroom farm would involve recycling used coffee grounds to grow oyster mushrooms, dubbed ‘Cr’oyster mushrooms’, before selling the final product to local restaurants and cafes.
He believes that his idea is one of the most realistic proposals for the re-purposing of the subways, as “mushroom farms are pretty cheap to get going.”
“It would tick all the boxes,” he said. Not only would the farm be sustainable, but it could also be run by a team of volunteers, helping to reduce the problem of social isolation in the community.
The subterranean mushroom farm, should it ever become a reality, would be far from Mr. Dickinson’s first foray into urban farming.
For the last six years, he has grown oyster mushrooms in a converted shipping container in Old Town.
His entry into the world of mushroom farming began when he noticed that the cafe where he bought his daily cappuccino did not recycle its used coffee grounds.
A keen gardener, he started collecting the waste coffee grounds, alongside tea bags, to feed the soil at his allotment.
Not content with simply feeding the soil, he took to Google and discovered that coffee grounds are a perfect substrate for oyster mushrooms. The rest is history.
After attending a training course in Devon, he first set up the mushroom farm at his home, before upscaling to a shed and then finally moving to the current location at the shipping container.
The container is located opposite the House of Reeves furniture store, which became a symbol of the destruction of the 2011 riots following an arson attack. It was a riot recovery fund that enabled the shipping container to be installed following the infamous fire.
Due to extreme temperatures last summer, production has temporarily halted.
“I was doing it more for love than as a hard-nosed businessman but the satisfying thing was seeing them on the menu in a cafe and the enthusiasm of the cafe owners,” he said.
The prize money will now be reinvested into the mushroom farm, contributing to the cost of shipping the mushroom spawn from Belgium and the grow bags from the United States.
Lavender, poppies and even saffron have all grown in Croydon. And now, thanks to Mr Dickinson, the oyster mushroom can be added to that list.
All of the winners of the Reimagine Croydon Subways competition can be seen at www.croydon.gov.uk/reimaginesubways.
Feature image credit: Andrew Dickinson.