Representing Croydon at the Garden Organic Community Volunteer Conference

By - Tuesday 18th October, 2016

Andrew Dickinson, founder of Croydon’s urban mushroom farm, has been spreading his knowledge to fellow community gardeners around the country

Oyster mushrooms.
Photo by Benketaro, used under Creative Commons licence.

One of the great things that the Citizen allows us to do is to share stories involving Croydon folk. On Saturday 24th September I found myself boarding a coach with a group of fellow Croydon Master Gardeners and food buddies as we headed off to Ryton, Coventry for the Garden Organic Community Volunteer Conference 2016.

I’d been looking forward to the event some months previously as it was such a long way off and no need to worry about it, but now as I boarded the coach thinking about what lay ahead, I had a heavy feeling in my stomach that wasn’t anything to do with the bowl of porridge that I’d had for breakfast.

The day was to consist of a series of talks, presentations and workshops demonstrating various aspects of food growing/making/composting etc. Now in the previous carefree months I’d been receiving a succession of emails asking if I would present a workshop on growing oyster mushrooms on waste coffee grounds, a hobby of mine. Vanity easily got the best of me and I agreed to do a workshop, leaving me free to enjoy the rest of the day having felt that I’d contributed to the event.

I received another email saying that the workshop was fully booked and would I deliver a second one

But hell’s bells! Faster than the time that it takes to grow an oyster mushroom, I received another email saying that the workshop was fully booked and would I deliver a second one? My vanity was well and truly buffed up this time and I agreed. Then, quicker than it takes to order spawn from Belgium, order growing bags, collect coffee grounds and grow a mushroom, I had another email. The second workshop was fully booked and could I do a third and increase the attendee numbers on the first two? My vanity by now had nowhere to go. What should I do? I hate letting anyone down, but for my own sanity I declined a third workshop but agreed to increase the numbers of the first two from fifteen, yes, fifteen attendees, to twenty. Yes, twenty.

So that’s why the trepidation, because, guess what? I’ve never presented a workshop on growing oyster mushrooms to anyone. Let alone forty people. Did I say forty?

So on arrival we were fed and watered and then sat in on the introduction speeches in the main marquee from various heads at Garden Organic. I couldn’t concentrate as I was thinking about my first workshop and wanted to get to the room that it was being held in to do a walk through and satisfy myself that it would work operationally. So off I went and re-arranged the tables and chairs into an arrangement that I felt would work best. I only had time then to take a sip of my cold coffee and the first group were being led in by the lovely Liza Scofield, our regional co-ordinator for Garden Organic.

I bumped into a few workshop attendees and received some excellent feedback and thank yous

After an introduction and explanation of what they’d be doing and some of the mushroom growing science, they were on to the practical task of mixing coffee grounds, spawn and a secret ingredient and bagging it all up in a specific, filtered grow bag. Soon it was done: their very own grow your own mushroom kit. As the practical was going on, I did resist the temptation to come over all Bruce Forsythish on the Generation Game and take the mickey but I couldn’t resist borrowing a phrase from The Great British Bake Off and look at one or two kits and say “oh, you’ve got a soggy bottom!”.

Anyway, they all did really well and I told them that I was impressed by the standard of kit and then we went into a Q&A session which raised very good questions which were all straightforward to answer. End of first workshop.

At this point on my schedule, my instructions were to fit lunch in sometime before the afternoon talks back in the main marquee began, which I did (and very delicious it was too). I bumped into a few workshop attendees and received some excellent feedback and thank yous, which were appreciated. So back in the main marquee we had more presentations but again my mind was on the next workshop and how to make the dwindling supply of coffee grounds last, so I made my way back to the workshop and pre-measured in to the mixing bowls the ingredients to make kits and waited for the next group to arrive.

You wouldn’t know that this sort of thing was going on if we didn’t have the Citizen to share it

Our Croydon co-ordinator, the also lovely Catherine Graham, led the last group in and we soon got down to business. But because of the preparation that I’d done beforehand, the practical was over quicker than before, and I gulped in realisation that I now had a twenty-minute Q&A to fill. Amazingly I’d only fielded a few questions and Catherine was telling us that we were out of time and had to get back to the main marquee for the closing speeches and the raffle. So a quick ‘clear up and pack up’ ensued and Catherine and I hurried back to the marquee just in time. By 5pm we were back on the coach and whilst chewing on several Quality Streets I had time to reflect that I’d actually successfully delivered two workshops to forty people in one afternoon with no mishaps.

So there we are readers, you wouldn’t know that this sort of thing was going on if we didn’t have the Citizen to share it. Croydon folk getting out around the country, and spreading and sharing what we’ve learned.

Andrew Dickinson

Andrew Dickinson

I'm a long term resident of Croydon and I'm lucky to live and work in the borough. As a schoolboy my proudest moments were playing representative football for Croydon where I would fight tooth and nail to win for the borough and contribute towards its sporting reputation. For 18 years I worked up in London and became distanced from the town. Now I've re-engaged with the place over the last 20 years and feel frustrated in finding a way to vent my passion for Croydon (as I'm too old to play football) so I'm always on the lookout for any new initiatives to bring positivity to the place. I live on Bramley Hill with my lovely family and I have an allotment locally. I'm a keen amateur in gardening, environmentalism, permaculture, photography and website design. I'm an oyster mushroom farmer, run a social enterprise called Green Croydon, I'm part of the Croydon Fairtrade steering group, part of the Croydon ReUse Organisation, current chair of Croydon Transition Town and a community gardener; I'm on the borough Food Programme, Parks and Social Enterprise steering groups and a community apple presser. I currently work for the council as an officer creating and promoting community events in the beautiful Wandle Park. I put on the Croydon Environmental Fair each year and the Summer of Love theme and festival was something I dreamed up. I inspired the 'I would make Croydon better by' theme. There's also the Give and Take events in Surrey Street. I started the monthly Arts, Crafts and Vintage market in Exchange Square. Formerly I was a Turf Projects trustee, a Croydon Radio presenter and part of the Old Town business association.Between all this, I write the occasional article for the Citizen. I support local artists and local musicians by enabling the space for them to create I also support local independent journalism.

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    What an excellent way to show others how to use what is effectively a waste product (coffee grounds) and put it back into the food-growing process. Hope to taste Cr’oysters very soon …. :-)