Mushroom cultivation can be rewarding. Here’s some advice if you’re interested in taking the fungi plunge.
If you’re a bit skeptical about eating any wild mushrooms you discover during a foray, like I am, there are a variety of options. Before my inaugural SOMA Camp experience, my partner and I took a mushroom cultivation workshop in a residential downtown Oakland neighborhood. The instructors were a husband and wife team, Ray and Patty Lanier. They call their company Maestro Mushrooms.
At the interactive workshop, the Laniers showed us how to prepare a substrate (a substance that mycelium will readily grow in such as straw, oak logs, cardboard, or wood chips) before inoculating it with spawn (existing mycelium used to cultivate mushrooms). You can always purchase a mushroom growing kit at a store or online, but you’re unlikely to learn much about the process from the kit alone.
Ray got turned on to mushrooms as a teenager. As a young adult, he made his way from North Carolina to Washington to learn more about his passion from none other than the mushroom expert, Paul Stamets. Ray has had a few stints at growing mushrooms commercially but is currently focused on a more lucrative crop—cannabis—on his 45 acres in Lake County, California. Now that he’s a licensed cannabis grower, he hopes to soon restart the mushroom venture. The Laniers started a Facebook group, Mushroom Growing, which has attracted a global audience of over 75,000.
While I enjoyed learning how to grow mushrooms, my partner, Jessica, embraced the DIY process more ardently. We have a few bags of substrate in an empty shower stall as well as lots of experiments in the kitchen area. After the Laniers’ workshop and our first year at SOMA Camp, Jessica refined her process. She salvages an oyster mushroom from a nearly spent bag, making sure the stem includes attached mycelium. (When you purchase commercial mushrooms, the stem is usually cut off so you miss out on its “root system.") She uses brown paper bags and aspen-chip bedding for small rodents as a substrate for the mushroom, moistens the mushroom-plus-substrate combination, rolls it up in a bag tightly (but not too tight), and stores it in a cool, dark area—usually our refrigerator.
She’ll periodically check on these projects, making sure the substrate remains moist and the mycelium begins to spread. Eventually the bag is relocated to the shower stall. With an estimated 70% success rate, Jessica’s content with small yields. She enjoys the process and loves cooking with mushrooms, but doesn’t invest the time or energy in perfecting the techniques to get a higher yield.
Leave it to the folks at Mycopia Mushrooms to perfect the techniques. What began in 1977 in Sebastopol, California has grown exponentially. With a second farm in Michigan, the company ships seven varieties of organic mushrooms throughout the country. Justin Reyes, the manager of Sales & Marketing at Mycopia, has been with the company for seven years. He told me the industry sees 3-5% growth every year, yet overall mushroom consumption in the U.S. still pales in comparison to Asian countries. We each eat approximately two pounds of mushrooms annually; in Asia, people pack away ten pounds per capita.
On the last day of SOMA Camp there is an opportunity to tour Mycopia. The temperature-controlled facility contains separate rooms for each mushroom varietal. Each room is like visiting a foreign planet, with beautiful creatures bursting from reusable bottles. Mycopia uses an oak-based substrate. When it is no longer useable for mushrooms, it is coveted as compost by local farmers and wineries.
Essentially the process is the same as we learned from Ray and Patty. But on a grander, more refined scale. Jessica’s adept with growing oyster mushrooms, had a small yield of lion’s mane from a kit, but still hasn’t had success with shiitakes. We’ll continue our purchases of Myopia’s medley of exotic mushrooms at our local market.
Nebrodini Bianco Mushrooms