BIRD'S FARM MUSHROOMS

 contributed by Russell Howes 

Jack Golden brought mushroom-farming to Flordon. He started growing mushrooms at Poringland where Jack's wife Julia and her family had a Horticultural Nursery and this is where Jack developed his initial knowledge in growing. I imagine this was in the early 1960's. Jack bought the property at Flordon (known as Bird's Farm) at auction from Billy Couzens, we believe in the late 1960's. The farm he bought encompassed the old farm house (which was thatched), situated where the pond is now, a number of old buildings and 11 acres of farm land to the rear. Jack demolished this original farm house and built the modern blond brick thatched house which is still there today. At the same time he built the farm for growing mushrooms in this same blonde brick. There were approximately 12 different growing sheds, storage facilities and very basic facilities for a mushroom farm. There was a number of buildings at the back of the farm which Jack used to store vintage cars in, in addition to barns for general agricultural storage e.g. for corn harvested from the 11 acres behind.

Tea break at Birds farm for (L>R) Anne, Barbara, Margaret & Barbara served by ? - note the name on the mushroom boxes
Tea break at Birds farm for (L>R) Anne, Barbara, Margaret & Barbara served by ? - note the name on the mushroom boxes

In 1975 I bought the mushroom farm from Jack Golden (though he kept the fields at the back). Arriving in Flordon after spending 5 years at a very large mushroom at Martham, mainly concerned with the machinery and engineering side of the business, I could see the potential of having my own farm. But little did I realizes that there was not much machinery at Birds Farm to assist me in the process of cultivation of the crop, so it was a steep learning curve. A few of Jack's staff joined us which was a great help as their knowledge was invaluable.

Avril (L) & Jean Cook (R) bring out mushrooms they have picked in the growing shed (thro' door)
Avril (L) & Jean Cook (R) bring out mushrooms they have picked in the growing shed (thro' door)

Stephen Clarke headed up the production team and the process of growing at that time was very labour intensive and many of the operations were carried out manually. Gradually, as the farm developed and production increased, we employed more and more local people - all from the surrounding villages - Hapton, Mulbarton, Newton Flotman, Long Stratton. We also employed many students who were often sons or daughters or family members of our regular team and who were looking for weekend work or work in their school holidays. We had a great team of local people who were all helped each other and me to ensure we kept on top (most of the time) of the intense harvesting, production and safe delivery of our mushrooms. We used to employ around 20 - 30 people - some full time and some part time. There were highs and lows of course and I was grateful for the loyal team to help get us through these times. Many of our original team are still in touch with me and Toby and only a few months ago we had a small reunion/get together to talk about the old days!

Barabara hoses down - hygiene is vital to successful growing.
Barabara hoses down - hygiene is vital to successful growing.

We had to find a way to increase production month by month to offset costs in order to compete, which was quite a problem as market prices were very low. After a few years a group of local growers got together and we formed Waveney Growers at Flixton. They offered their premises as a base for distribution of mushrooms to large supermarkets etc. We appointed a manager who became very efficient in finding new markets. At that time the Dutch system of growing was coming into this country. The system was quite unique: highly productive, but very expensive. Ultimately the National Association of Growers in this country folded as many growers could not afford the expansion needed, with a result that many of us had to retire.

Jenny's retirement: box labelled 'You have picked your last mushroom'! Watched by (L>R) ?, Jean & Doris
Jenny's retirement: box labelled 'You have picked your last mushroom'! Watched by (L>R) ?, Jean & Doris

I retired in 1992 and sold the farm to David Spurdens, David Mann and Alan Mann and it became known as Tas Valley Mushrooms. Toby and I continued to live in the original farm house until 2010. My successors Tas Valley at Flordon have adapted the highly mechanised Dutch system of growing with great success, but at a cost.

David Spurdens, who was the managing partner, built a bungalow for himself and his wife Vinnie to live in on the farm around 1993. David continued to develop and modernize the farm increasing the production. Tim Tumov and his wife Mariola had worked with my daughter Judy at the strawberry farm in Hempnall and they joined Tas Valley around 2008. David Spurdens retired and Tim took over as managing director and has continued to develop the farm to ensure it is a sustainable business meeting the demands of the modern consumer and the markets. The mushrooms are still marketed and sold through Waveney Mushrooms Ltd - a farm-led production co-operative and one of the few left in the country. Waveney collect mushrooms from a number of local farms in the area on a daily basis and take them to local and London markets and also distribution centres. Waveney Mushrooms Ltd play an important role helping provide local, high quality mushrooms to local markets and further afield in the UK and this helps avoid too many imports from abroad.

Memories of the Mushroom Farm

'I soon discovered that mushroom growing is a complicated process and the picking is a skilled job that requires training!'

(Jean Cook)

Mushroom farm workers' reunion 2018 - old loyalties last long!
Standing L>R:
Seated L:R:

Most photos contributed by Jean Cook; Photo of reunion contributed by Toby Howes.