Our family has been producing mushrooms for over 60 years after Peter (Snr) & Leny Willemse emigrated from the Netherlands to Brisbane in 1957. Both came from a mixed farming background. Peter snr had also worked on a mushroom farm in the Netherlands for a while.
They settled at Rochedale and began building a mushroom farm, using second hand materials to build 3 mushroom growing sheds with wooden shelves, and while working 2 other jobs to fund the farm.
The family quickly grew with the birth of twin sons in 1958, followed by another 4 boys and 2 girls over the next 11 years. As the children grew older, picking mushrooms and compost preparation became part of the after school and week-end chores.
In 1969 the farm was unable to expand at its present location and 10 acres was purchased at North Maclean. In 1971 two sheds were built by Peter snr and the older sons. This expansion was repeated every year until 10 sheds were established and was growing 4,000 kgs per week.
The Rochedale farm was closed in January 1974 and the family moved permanently to the new farm. The oldest sons left school at 15 and began full time work on the farm.
In 1979, Peter snr passed away and the second generation took over the business. The four eldest children, John, Corrie, Maria and Peter, whose average age was 20, managed the production, operations and management of the farm. The other children joined the farm operations on leaving school.
In 1981 the farm started a new expansion phase with the building of new generation pasteurisation tunnels, followed in 1983 & 1984 by the building of 4 new mushroom growing rooms, resulting in an increase in production to 10 tonnes per week.
1985 saw the introduction of a newly developed growing system using aluminium shelves rather than wooden boxes.
This was a major change utilising new machinery and growing methods which resulted in productivity gains. Each year a module of 5 or 6 new growing rooms were built until 1991 when we had 32 growing rooms. The older style sheds were no longer used for growing mushrooms.
In 1991 our production was 40 tonnes per week and we were the second largest farm in Australia. Since then our expansion gains have been based on productivity and growing methods, rather than new growing rooms.
From 2000 onwards our production averaged over 70 tonnes per week and we employed 150 staff - the largest private employer in the Beaudesert Shire. We are still the second largest mushroom farm in Australia, (second to a multi-national company operated farm in Melbourne).
Known then as Queensland Mushrooms, we were a major supplier to the chain stores and in 1997 and 1999 won a Woolworth’s Supplier of the Year Award for “Outstanding Performer - Produce”. In 1998 we started exporting to Japan and since 2000 had obtained ISO9002 Quality Assurance.
In 2006, Queensland Mushrooms was sold to the Costa Group (Mushroom Exchange). Steve and Johnny Willemse continued to work for Costa until 2010.
After Steve left Costa, he spent some time helping a mushroom farm in Perth and a year later, Steve decided he wanted his own mushroom farm. So, in 2011, Steve was offered a farm at Woodford to lease. We then packed up our belongings and moved back to Queensland. This was a big move for Steve, as he had always worked with his family and for the first time in our life, we had to work out how to pay wages etc.
Steve enjoyed the challenge as we were told that Woodford was a 10 tonne per week farm, yet no one had ever produced that many mushrooms from it. Steve has been producing between 17 to 20 Tonnes per week. Not as much as the 70 tonnes he was doing at Queensland Mushrooms, but in this business you have to start small and work your way up as it costs a fortune to start up a mushroom farm.
Steve & Joanne’s son Rhys was a professional downhill mountain bike racer and had been racing overseas for 4 years, when he decided he had had enough and wanted to come home and work for the business. So, in 2012 we purchased a mushroom farm at Chevallum on the Sunshine Coast. Rhys took over that farm as the grower, and he produces between 8 to 10 tonnes per week. Rhys is a 3rd Generation mushroom grower.
Today, our SjW Mushrooms farms at Chevallum and Woodford employ over 60 staff and produce 26 tonnes of mushrooms a week. Eighty percent of the farm's product goes to Brisbane and surrounds as well as Woolworths and wholesale outlets in North Queensland. We also supply local Sunshine Coast businesses, IGAs and wholesalers.
That's our story ... we hope you enjoyed the read !