AFTER 11 years at the helm of one of the region's finest food businesses, George and Nic Pointing have decided to close Dorset Down Mushrooms.
The couple say the difficult decision has been brought about by ill health and difficulties sourcing the compost required to grow their award-winning mushrooms.
George has worked in the mushroom industry for 50 years, and was part of a partnership growing for supermarkets until he and wife Nic acquired their farm at Poyntington, near Sherborne. George had always wanted to produce the notoriously difficult to grow chestnut mushroom and the holding provided the perfect opportunity.
The first crop soon followed, as did their inaugural farmers' market in Wells in 2001.
"I had never sold anything before, and it just frightened the life out of me. It was crazy to think that we could make a living of it," Nic said.
The bag-grown mushrooms proved a big hit with customers. More farmers' markets followed and Nic left her job as a bookkeeper to concentrate on the business in 2003.
A difficult year followed when George was diagnosed with prostate cancer and Nic with lymphoma in 2004.
"We got through it. The support we had from other market traders was just amazing," Nic explained.
With help from their friends, the couple bounced back and the business continued to grow. Dorset Down Mushrooms now has 10 employees and supplies more than 40 businesses. Their produce has been used in top London restaurants and featured on menus in the House of Commons and television's Ready, Steady Cook. Nic and George met the Queen when she visited Taunton Farmers' Market and provided Her Majesty with a punnet of mushrooms in the Dorset hamper she received during her Jubilee visit to Sherborne earlier this year.
The business has been dealt a double blow by the return of Nic's lymphoma and news that the compost and spawn they use to grow their mushrooms will not be available next year. The couple have thought long and hard about their future and decided that now is the time to bring Dorset Down Mushrooms to a close.
"I am adamant that I will bounce back from this but we can't do it all," Nic said.
"We are the only growers in the country using bags to produce mushrooms. Nobody else would be mad enough to do it but it produces a superior mushroom.
"Our supplier has told us the compost and spawn we use are no longer available. We have always prided ourselves on the taste and quality of our mushrooms and we don't want to produce an inferior product."
The intense workload of Dorset Down Mushrooms includes six farmers' markets per week. The team are well known at sales in Dorchester, Poundbury, Sherborne, Wimborne, Wincanton, Frome, Crewkerne and Bath. Their last outing will be at the Christmas market in Frome on Sunday 23rd December.
"We have had such a fun time. It is horrid to have to let it go because we are so passionate about it, but times have moved on," Nic said.
"I can't believe the following we have generated. We have fantastically loyal customers who come back week after week, year after year. They have become our friends and it will be very hard to say goodbye to everyone."