The Magic Behind the Mushrooms at Fullerton Farms

Katherine Burrows

Derek Fullerton of Fullerton Farms near Roblin with
Shiitake mushrooms.
Derek grows fresh seasonal gourmet and medicinal
mushrooms for local farmers' markets, caters to restaurants,
and sells mushroom kits for growing your own mushrooms
at home.
You can check out his offerings on Facebook
at @FullertonFarms.
Photo by Katherine Burrows.
[This article ran in the October/November 2019 issue of The SCOOP.]

What do you get when you take a guy with a tech education background, a passion for growing mushrooms, and a strong belief in sustainable stewardship, and transplant him from the Toronto suburbs to the middle of a growing food and beverage district?

You get the creative, high-tech approach of Fullerton Farms, which has quickly become part of the local business community, making appearances at the Belleville Farmers’ Market and the Black Cat Café in Stone Mills.

In 2017, Derek, his wife Kendra, and son Adam left Bowmanville, moving away from family, friends, and urban life to buy a rural property with just under two acres south of Roblin. When they moved in, the property was just grass. Currently, Derek estimates they have about 5000 square feet of garden space with plans to expand next year.

The couple started growing classic market garden veggies but found that the season was quite short, and many other vendors were selling the same items. To lengthen the selling season and differentiate their product, they began to focus on canning what they grew. This year, they’ve sold canned goods at the Belleville Farmers’ Market and the Black Cat Café in Tamworth on Fridays.

At first glance, it may seem that computer technology and farming are very different industries, but Derek finds that his tech background comes in very handy when problem-solving on the farm. With the drought conditions of the past two years, he’s had to create watering solutions for the crops. Progressing from hand watering last year, this year Derek implemented a rain catchment system. Next year, he plans to add an irrigation system.

Derek has long been intrigued by the medicinal properties of mushrooms and has grown them as a hobby for thirty years. He has some professional experience working for a mushroom grower in Orono that has since closed down, and wanted to explore both gourmet and medicinal mushrooms.

Derek explained they make Lion’s Mane mushrooms into supplements, which can improve memory, cognition, anxiety, depression, nerve growth, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), tinnitus (ringing in the ears), insulin regulation, and sleep patterns.

Derek grows Oyster mushrooms in artificial logs with straw.
Photo by Katherine Burrows.
Oyster and Shiitake mushrooms are sold both fresh and dried, with fresh available seasonally. Their oyster mushrooms are also used to make the Fullerton Farms popular mushroom jerky, a tasty, vegan-friendly snack.

Selling mushrooms provides lots of opportunities to educate the customer. Many people have questions about whether the mushrooms are poisonous and what interactions may occur with other medications or natural supplements. It is best to consult your health care practitioner regarding your specific health concerns or potential drug interactions.

Besides informal conversations at the market booth, Fullerton Farms also teaches workshops on how to grow mushrooms at home and sells ready-made kits. Indoor kits contain a ready to fruit bag suitable for countertop growing and are sold year-round. Outdoor kits such as King Stropharia can increase the production of vegetable gardens and is also edible. They also sell glow-in-the-dark bioluminescent mushroom nightlights called Living Lites, which make a great gift for kids or that hard to buy for person.

Another innovative addition to the product line at Fullerton Farms is their dog biscuits, made from spent brewer’s grain and a few other ingredients. Derek makes beer as a hobby so finding a purpose for the spent grain is another way of making good use of resources. 

Derek gave me a tour of the outdoor gardens, a mixture of veggies, herbs, and fruit. He noted that he has been pruning the apple tree that came with the property and it has such a bountiful crop this year they plan to preserve the apples.

Then we went into an outbuilding where the mushrooms are grown. Here was another place where I could see Derek’s creativity at work. The Oyster mushrooms are grown in artificial logs with straw. (Think a log-shaped plastic bag stuffed with straw, hanging vertically.) Other varieties are grown in hardwood sawdust—the same type of pellets that are used in pellet stoves. Derek notes that there is no compost or manure used so the odour that one might expect is not present.

Customers can buy mushroom liquid cultures online that are sent in syringes. He also takes orders in January for mushroom spawn, for spring log inoculation. It takes some basic knowledge to know when to cut the trees and how to inoculate the logs, but when done successfully, they can produce for five or more years.

Visit the Fullerton Farms booth at the Farmer’s Market for samples of canned goods, including Cowboy Candy, their candied jalapeños. I sampled the Killer Beans, Killer Pickles, and Tasty Tomatoes—definitely a unique take on preserves. Kendra does most of the picking and processing. During my visit, she was busy cooking a batch of Awesome Sauce—a tomato-based sauce loaded with veggies and their oyster mushrooms, containing all home-grown ingredients, which is great on pasta, chicken, and just about everything else.

It’s obvious from the couple’s teasing comradery that they collaborate well together and enjoy their farm. Derek admitted that they were a bit nervous at first to move far away from family, but that everyone has been very friendly here. They’ve found that people are very willing to help promote their business. He emphasizes that the Black Cat Café is owned by great people and that Fullerton Farms enjoys participating in Friday pizza nights.

Kendra likes the “buy local” feeling and appreciates the support they get as a small local business from community members. “People really care about their neighbours.” “We wouldn’t change it in terms of where we landed. It’s peaceful and quiet. This will be our final community.” Derek says as he and Kendra exchange a spirited smile.

Just some of the many canned and dried goods offered by Fullerton Farms. Photo by Katherine Burrows.