Billy Roy, aka Billy Mushroom, comes from a family of mushroom growers and now harvests his own exotics.
Billy Roy, aka Billy Mushroom, comes from a long line of mushroom growers and now harvests his own exotics.
The first clue as to where Billy Roy’s passions lie is the t-shirt he’s wearing in one of his YouTube videos. In the centre, there’s a cheerful-looking animated mushroom, around the edge run the words, ‘Pretty fly for a funghi’. The second is that he apparently likes to go by the moniker ‘Billy Mushroom’.
Billy comes from a family of mushroom-growers, so perhaps it’s no surprise he’s fallen into the same trade. “My granddad got into growing mushrooms about 70 years ago, and he and my nana, not long after he had his first little successful hobby grow, decided he’d have a crack at doing it commercially,” he says. “So he built his first shed, and then one shed turned into two, two turned into three, to the point where there’s now seven sheds at the farm where the family started growing mushrooms.”
Billy’s mum grew up among the mushroom sheds too, later meeting his dad at teacher’s college before moving back to the family farm, where they also gave growing mushrooms a crack.
“That’s down in Te Puna, and my uncle was using that for growing portobello,” Billy explains.
“I wanted to get into growing exotics and also edible native mushrooms, so I built a shed at my
mum and dad’s place up in Whakamārama and that’s where I run my operation now.”
It wasn’t a given that Billy would join the family fungi dynasty. First, he tried his hand at a variety
of jobs, “from tree planting to doing dishes at cafes and restaurants to being front-of-house as well.
I did hospo for a while. I worked for Whale Watch for a little bit and I also worked in the film industry as well,” he says. “But basically, after doing a stack of different jobs and just always feeling a little
bit uninspired, eventually I decided I was looking for something else.”
When his uncle offered him a chance to grow portobellos with him at the family mushroom farm,
Billy took him up on it. “I put down my first shed of portobellos and it went really well, like, really
well actually, I had some really good beginner’s luck. So whether that was a tohu, a sign, or not,
I don’t know. But I just thought, growing food for people, it’s an honest living. Not only was
I learning how to grow food, it was an opportunity for me to be my own boss, which means that
I got to set my own rules...
“And then I wanted to start branching out into different types of mushrooms and I also wanted to
lean more towards being spray-free in the path of eventually becoming organic, which is where I’m just about at now. I’ve just got to find one more aspect of my supply chain, then I can say that all the ingredients that go into my mushrooms are fully certified organic, so I’m pretty excited about that.”
Eight years on from his first crop and Billy, operating as Mārama’s Mushrooms, is now well-established in his own field of fungi expertise, growing an assortment of exotic and endemic edible mushrooms to sell at farmers’ markets all over the Bay, as well as supplying a number of local restaurants and organic wholesalers.
Billy’s mushrooms range from oyster and enoki to New Zealand strains, such as pekepeke kiore,
a kind of Coral Tooth that’s a cousin to the increasingly well-known Lion’s Mane and tawaka (“which
is probably one of my favourite mushrooms, it’s a little bit like a portobello, but it’s got a richer flavour and they are beautiful looking”). He also runs workshops, records the aforementioned YouTube videos and sells mushroom blocks to those with an interest in fungi DIY.
“Being your own boss is hard sometimes,” he admits. “But it has given me this opportunity to
start questioning aspects of the mushroom-growing industry, and to try to find ways to grow mushrooms that align more with what I value, which is moving towards being as waste-free as possible and ideally organic as well. And focusing on a local market, not on having a wide reach across many regions. I’d like to focus most of my energy in the Bay of Plenty where I live, because
it’s less food miles, essentially.”
His waste-free mission is taking shape and he’s recently taken a key step towards achieving his goal. “One of the things that’s pretty common in the industry is that you grow mushrooms in plastic, and that plastic is obviously waste afterwards,” Billy explains. So he recently tracked down a company
in Waiuku called Future Post, which recycles plastic waste and turns it into fence posts that are then used on organic farms and orchards around the country. “So I feel that’s like a small win,” says Billy. “But ideally I want to move to trying to grow mushrooms in clay pots, which is an incredibly expensive initial layout of money to set up, just for the sheer amount of pots I would need to buy to keep in rotation, and how much they cost. But once you’ve got them, you don’t need to have a single-use plastic bag anymore. You basically just wash the pots out and reuse them.”
He’s excited about the local industry and the possibilities that are emerging as the market grows.
“It’s an awareness thing more than anything. When I first started selling mushrooms with my uncle, oyster mushrooms, six, seven years ago, no one really wanted to try them. But now there’s a growing curiosity and a lot of research coming out about the health benefits of mushrooms. And also people realising you can grow them at home — people are thinking a lot more about food resiliency these days — and wanting to support local businesses.
“It’s really just a matter of exploring, and I think that’s quite an exciting thing in Aotearoa right now. These mushrooms haven’t really been used that much in modern cuisine — there’s an opportunity
to play and find exciting ways to use them, and find out where their flavours work and where they don’t. I think it’s a pretty cool time for the mushroom industry in New Zealand at the moment.”