It is just around midday when we start on a steep climb up the hill. We just left the old Christian settlement of Livingstonia: a dusty little town started around 1600, based in the hills and looking out over the pale blue lake Malawi.
We are on our way to the Mushroom Farm, a small settlement from much more recent years. Although the name is giving you the impression that it’s taking you back to the sixties with psychedelic mushrooms, skunk and a hint of LSD, I’m being told that the name originates from the mushrooms which can be found when the rainy season has started and is flushing the dust of the trees, down the hill and is turning the dry tracks in muddy, impassible hazards.
Kyle, a friendly young man with an enormous passion and totally adapted to the African way of working, is showing us around. We would describe Kyle as a self taught permaculture enthusiast. As soon as he starts leading us around the 11ha of plateaus with plants we see his dark eyes lighten up. Kyle is telling us that sitting still never worked for him, he worked on permaculture farms in the US and South Africa before settling here. Recently he got his mom to fly down from the US bringing in interesting sounding plant seeds to grow spices that would add perfectly to the food served at the Mushroom farm. Not yet shocked by this he shows us his collection of Asian earthworms (Red Wigglers) who are working hard in a concealed area to fertilise soil. The wigglers did not crawl down here by themselves but also made it to the farm in a suitcase.
The rainworms fertilise the ground together with the human waste of the Mushroom Farm. The waste is collected by smart looking compost toilets, and this way everyone gives a small donation to the fertilization of the farm. Accidentally looking down the longdrops it is clearly visible that the farm has been growing in well deserved popularity. The reason I’m saying this is not only because the longdrop is not that long anymore, but also because we have been hearing stories about the Mushroom Farm traveling all through Malawi.
After the location has been taking over from a Australian guy, about 3 years ago, Maddy, a fresh and fit looking English lady and her brother Cameron, a total coffeeholic and great carpenter, turned the place in to a total hipster paradise where wearing beards, drinking coffee, playing boardgames, eating vegetarian and sharing travel experiences is cool. To go with this we just heard that Cameron totally mastered the hipster culture by developing a bicycle-driven coffee roasting machine, which we are now very curious about and have yet to see…
The guys from the Mushroom Farm are also working very closely together with the local community spreading the vision of creating sustainable tourism in the area. The Eco-Lodge is designed as a social-enterprise; encouraging employment, responsible tourism and donating part of the lodge’s profit to community projects in the area. Over the last 3 years the Mushroom Farm has more than tripled their employees; supporting them and their families by creating work and also creating schooling opportunities. They’ve also started weekly adult literacy classes, nursery and feeding program, and provide scholarships for vulnerable students in the area who would not otherwise have an opportunity to go to school. By staying at Mushroom Farm, you truly do make a difference to the community.
At this stage, what we can see with our untrained eye, the farm is producing: Tomatoes, salad, avocados, bananas, capsicum, coffee, spices, cucumbers, beetroot and carrots. The products they are not producing are bought from local farmers or brought in from Mzuzu, about 3 hours away. The quality of the food and the incredible view of the location are without a doubt the main attractions and totally distract you from the fact that some of the buildings could use some love and that there is continuous building activity to improve the place even more. Not that you will be spending much time in your lodgings anyway since the bar is a much better place to hang out and the food will keep you coming back continually.
Just to summarise the current facts of the Mushroom Farm. Staying at the farm will give you a totally breathtaking view: overlooking Lake Malawi, with rolling hills also in the backgrounds, it’s a scenery that never gets old no matter how long you stay. Even better, the sun will rise over the lake in the early morning which is something to get up for sure! The best way to take in these views are from the hammocks that seem to be suspended mid air just on the edge of the cliff. The hammocks are also close to the bar, a place you don’t want to get too far away from since the home grown food keeps you coming back. The food is being served with a smile and pride by the most wonderful people who are getting a fair chance to improve their lives. The farm is offering an overland campsite for cars, tent campsites, safari tents, dorm rooms, a tree house, a cob house, 2 showers and 2 toilets, a bar, a restaurant and a sundeck for yoga. The whole place has 22 beds available, so book in advance and make sure that you get there before 16.00 to sign in for that delicious vegetarian dinner.