A COMMUNITY forest farm could soon be producing gourmet mushrooms, becoming the first of its kind in Monmouthshire.

Stephen Powell, of Llwyn Ffranc Farm, near Abergavenny said there is phenomenal demand for shiitake and oyster mushrooms which he is planning to cultivate, along with lavender, which is a popular flower used in health products and cosmetics as the farm's signature crops.

Mr Powell believes it could make Llwyn Ffranc the most important community-owned farming project in the county.

The former Reuters journalist, who has lived on the farm for ten years, set up the community farm as a not-for-profit society last year and is initially selling firewood, elderflower cordial and orchard fruit.

His vision is to develop a community forest farm which combines foraging, farming and forestry and to eventually open a restaurant called The Forager in a converted barn, with the help of mushroom expert Olly Carter, where wild food will be a dominant theme.

He said: "We see woodland mushrooms and lavender as the two main drivers of Llwyn Ffranc's economy.

"We aim to create a viable model of community farming for the 21st century.

"Lavender is a powerful healing agent, whilst no-one produces mushrooms commercially in the county.

Shiitake mushrooms are in demand world-wide but are generally imported to UK supermarkets."

A community share scheme has attracted 80 investors from as far as Australia and is following in the foot-steps of a similar scheme at Moelyci Farm in Tregarth, North Wales.

Mr Powell, who has bought 50 acres of woodland through the share offer, has already raised £17,750 from individuals and £20,300 in pledges.

The society needs investors to buy shares of between £50 and £20,000 to raise a further £50,000 to buy a 13-acre field which includes an orchard and grassland fit for lavender by the end of December.

Investors become co-owners of Llwyn Ffranc Limited and part of a pioneering venture promoting low- carbon farming.

Mr Powell hopes to begin production of oyster mushrooms by Christmas.

For details visit www.communityforestfarm.co.uk