The YME story
Yorkshire Mushroom Emporium (YME) was founded in January 2021 by five friends from school following a lockdown walk around Leeds exploring some of its food growing and community gardening projects including Kirkstall Valley Farm, the Bedford Fields permaculture garden, and the city-wide community gardening organization of Hyde Park Source.
Although we had grown up together and done similar university courses in science and engineering, we’d had a variety of extra-curricular experiences (see ‘meet the team’ below). These experiences, alongside the accelerating climate crises and the issues with agricultural supply chains which the pandemic was highlighting had given us a sense of wanting to make a difference in the way food was grown and eaten. Walking around Leeds we were hugely inspired by the way these small projects were growing lots of amazing, nutritious food in sustainable and regenerative ways and we wanted to start something of our own.
Many ideas were excitedly discussed. Shall we sign up for an allotment and sell our produce to local restaurants? Or we could start our own café and only use food we’ve grown? How about we start a indoor hydroponic farm for salads and herbs? And how hard really is it to get some land and start your own farm?
After some time (and the realisation the answer to that last question was: extremely hard!) one of us mentioned they’d been looking at some things online about growing mushrooms in an indoor set-up. There was a method known as ‘low-tech mushroom farming’ in which you didn’t need any expensive equipment and could grow using containers placed on shelves, in any sized space. After some more research which mostly involving watching Americans on YouTube, we decided to make this our first foray into food production.
We started to grow mushrooms in our homes, boiling pans of straw on the hob and all crazy kind of things, but really we needed a dedicated space to grow. We were really lucky to be offered use of Callum’s mums' garage in Ilkley on a 12 month rent free deal to get us started, as long as we kept the area tidy and provided her with fresh mushrooms whenever she wanted. We got to work straight away, getting electricity installed with a meter so we could pay for our electricity usage, and putting holes in the walls to pump in fresh air.
By May 2021 the small farm was functional and we were producing small amounts of gourmet mushrooms, which we began selling to cafés and restaurants in Ilkley and Leeds in addition to some farmers markets. Over the next six months we improved our process, increased the range of species we grew, and started to reach the capacity of the space. We also received some strange looks from passers by – with the respirator masks and big barrels maybe they thought we were running some kind of Breaking Bad operation! In this period we also started to make prototypes of the grow your own mushrooms kit, which proved to be very popular especially at Christmas time.
The feedback and success of the first six months gave us the belief that there was a market for fresh gourmet mushrooms, so we looked to expand into a commercial rented space. Fast forward to March 2022 and we moved into a unit at the Curtis House Business Centre, just off York Road in LS9.
We’d decided to miss out the intermediate step and go large -this space was around 10 times the size of the garage- and with this came an incredibly intense period whilst we built the new indoor growing rooms with the new facilities finally becoming operational in August, although we’d continued to grow mushrooms during this time using our old equipment.
Since then, other than a few bumps in the road we have been able to settle into the space and develop the business towards our vision. There is still a long way to go, but we are hoping 2023 is going to be a really good year for us, with new offerings and projects afoot.