Growers of some of the finest mushrooms in Canada - Continental Mushroom Corporation today is one of the largest mushrooms farms in Ontario. Located just outside of Ottawa, Ontario in Metcalfe and owned and operated by the Pora family, Continental Mushroom has successfully blended a unique growing style, ingenious engineering techniques and a dedicated work force, with a family atmosphere that permeates our stadium – sized buildings, into an expanding operation that now supplies fresh mushrooms across Canada and into the United States.
The story of Continental Mushroom begins with Nicholas Pora in Paris, France at the end of the World War II. A refugee from Romania with a background in industrial chemistry, Nick was able to find work in the food chemistry field while awaiting an opportunity to immigrate to Canada. Arriving in Ontario in 1950, Nick began working on a small mushroom farm; an industry, which Nick pointed out, the requirements for success were already then changing from a strong back to a good education and a strong mind.
After acquiring further experience while working at two mushroom farms in Quebec and achieving for himself a managerial position, in 1958 Nick moved back to Ontario to accept an offer from Dominion Mushrooms, which was looking for a grower / manager to operate its mushroom farm in Pickering, Ontario. Recognizing the potential of beginning his own farm, Nick began to research the best location and decided on the Ottawa region for market reasons. To assure financing for his new venture, Nick acquired a partner, whom he bought out in 1988.
After building the facilities in 1972, the following year the growing operation began with an area of approximately 138,000 square feet. Being the only person in the operation with experience in the mushroom field, Nick himself needed to personally teach every group of workers their job, from operating the crane trucks to harvesting the mushrooms and packing / delivering the final product.
With the advantage of being previously known as a supplier of good quality mushrooms, Nick's efforts were met with success. From the beginning, Continental Mushroom followed a path of expansion in anticipation of and response to market demand. By 1980, the farm's total growing surface was 280,000 square feet, more than double the original area. In 1984 a new office building, with packing, cooling and shipping facilities incorporated, was added to the growing complex of buildings. The following year a distribution centre was opened in Montreal, which later became known as Essex – Continental.
Continental Mushroom's style of mushroom growing beds that Nick elected to use when he first began to design the buildings is unique within the industry. Rather than stacking the beds the conventional six layers high, at Continental Mushroom they were constructed twelve high to maximize production while minimising costs, resulting in a total bed height of over twenty feet. Such a high style has required the ingenuity of Nick and the company engineers to adapt existing machinery and custom-designed production techniques over the years.
The buildings were all strategically set into the side of a hill, allowing the first storey to be at ground level at the front, while the third story is at ground level at the rear of the building thereby facilitating the distribution and removal of growing materials. The used compost, a blend of mushroom compost and peat humus, is then marketed to area gardeners and local contractors as an excellent soil conditioner for better lawns and gardens.
Currently harvesting more than seventeen tons of mushrooms per day in the company's thirty-four growing houses. Continental Mushroom is increasing production on a continual basis through the use of new methods and technology, such as computer-controlled systems to regulate temperature and humidity levels. So innovative are some of these techniques the company cooperates with area school boards, colleges and public interest groups providing tours of the farm.
When Continental Mushroom first began, Nick realized he needed to import his labour force from surrounding communities such as Ottawa, Hull and Gatineau. The only way he would be able to keep a stable staff was to provide transportation, which the company has undertaken from its founding, providing the buses and drivers needed to transport the approximately 250 workers the farm now employs.
Nicholas Pora saw to it that all employees began as pickers and worked their way up to the other positions over time. In this way the management team is personally familiar with each aspect of production. Nick and his wife, Virginia (who was involved in the office side of business) ran the farm along with their children, from its inception until the late 1990's. As part of a family succession a sale of the ownership was completed to their daughter Leanna (who became part of the management team after graduating with a degree in environmental science), daughter Sandra (holds a Bachelor of Arts) and handles marketing and promotion, and their son also named Nick (a business graduate of Trent University) is now Vice President . Leanna's husband Lyle Whitham, first joined the company in 1979, and after obtaining his M.B.A. in 1985, he became the General Manager.
Reflecting the management excellence established by Nicholas Pora and his commitment to the success of the company, in 1990 Continental Mushrooms was chosen by the Canadian Business magazine as one of the fifty best managed privately owned businesses in Canada.
Dedicated to supplying the finest mushrooms possible Continental Mushroom Corporation Ltd. today continues to build on the experience it has gained in the past, while planning to meet the demands for an even more successful future.