An old mushroom farm on 20 hectares of beautiful farmland just outside of Howick in KZN has been repurposed by owners Nick and Mandy Crooks into a charming Midlands tourism attraction, writes Antoinette McDonald.
What was once growing tunnels on an old mushroom farm, has been converted into memorable trading spaces for a handful of contemporary artists, foodies, coffee roasters and restaurateurs.
Nick and Mandy’s daughter Phillipa, is the owner and curator at Rock Paper Scissors. Her store, Crooks, is just one of the retail stores utilising the unique space available on the property. After a decade in Cape Town, Phillipa – an art and fashion graduate – came home in lockdown and joined her family in their innovative and artisanal ventures at The Old Mushroom Farm.
“It’s been great to come home and experience Howick with fresh eyes. I’m surprised by how many young people and young families are coming back to the area.”
With new businesses popping up and so many people doing interesting things, she’s enjoying living on the property where she works and creates, while taking full advantage of long nature walks and hikes as well as eating off the land and generally soaking up the change of pace.
She is no stranger to The Mushroom Farm. As a youngster, she played there and remembers it well for its stinky compost smell – a far cry from the hip and happening joint it is today. Mushrooms have been traded in for artists and coffee roasters, allotment gardens, and short-term accommodation. There’s even a gym.
The place is abuzz with creativity, poised on a magnificent hill off the Karkloof road.
“Dad got tired of farming and pursued his other passion – architecture. He has fixed up the place and I am thrilled to be able to join in on what he has created here.”
The dome-shaped store spaces make for interesting retail and eatery spots with surrounding views of Albert Falls. In Crooks’ own store she has her branded pieces which she sells with other local designers’ goods too. She showcases homeware, cosmetics, jewellery, clothing, plants and furniture.
When Crooks is not sewing or selling, she’s getting her hands stuck into the gardens on the farm. “That was another lockdown thing. It was just a bank that has subsequently been levelled out and is now bursting with herbs and vegetables. The gardens are rented out to locals for a small fee. You bring your seeds and join in the gardening fun.”
The Resilient Garden Club – led by a local farmer, Tim – meets weekly to share gardening tips and encourage each other. “We are sharing with all the staff here and even encourage visitors to pick out the garden – it all adds to this unique experience. If you order a pizza from The Spot – it’s not uncommon to see chefs scuttling to the veggie gardens to grab fresh chillies and rocket.”
The buzz is electric at The Old Mushroom Farm every weekend and more recently they have just started First Thursdays, where you can enjoy live music, and a movie screening for children, and extended opening hours. You can also rent a hot desk and work from the farm or rent out the workshop space for demos or meetings.
“The local artisanal space here is so cool. There is so much happening and it’s really great to be with like-minded people who are passionate about their craft.”
Crooks rates her morning coffee from the onsite roastery Bluebird, fresh bread daily from the DoughM bakery next door, and Home Slice Cafe for the best vegan or gluten-free menu items, adding that The Tom and Jerry Soup is a favourite. Add a little grocery store and a hairdresser and you have a one-stop shop.
Open Thursdays to Mondays: 7.30am-8pm; 11 Karkloof Road, Howick KZN, 6,5km from Howick; www.theoldmushroomfarm.co.za
- Bluebird Coffee Roastery: www.bluebirdcoffeeroastery.co.za
- DoughM: Bakery & Deli
- Activ8: Fitness Facility: www.activ8performance.co.za
- Scew Space: Art Gallery: www.facebook.com/skewspace
- Home Slice Cafe: homeslicecafe.com
- Rock Paper Scissors: Contemporary goods store: www.rockpaperscissorsshop.info
- The Workshop: A space to host classes, talks and demonstrations: firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Spot: Wood oven bistro: thespotbistro.co.za
- Sally’s Midlands Mixes: Homemade granola: sallysmidlandsmixes.co.za/shop
OTHER IMPORTANT INFO:
Your furry friends are welcome guests at The Old Mushroom Farm. There’s space to sit indoors at The Spot, Home Slice, Bluebird Coffee Roasters and at Scew Space art gallery – but the owners also encourage you to bring a picnic blanket, find a grassy patch in the sunshine or underneath the glorious trees on the property and enjoy the majestic views. Trail runners and mountain bikers can access the Sappi Trail Network from the farm.
And if it’s all too good to leave – pack an overnight bag and check in at 11 Karkloof self-catering accommodation just a stone’s throw from all the action. The property can accommodate 47 people in the two houses and five cottages, and each unit is fully furnished with 100% cotton linen and an equipped kitchen.
To book email: email@example.com or visit www.11karkloof.co.za