Love ‘em or hate ‘em you can’t deny that there is nothing else like them. Gourmet mushroom cultivation has exploded in recent years. The demand for sustainable, locally grown and delicious produce has never been higher. Enter The Mushroom Guys. These homegrown heroes have been championing the urban farming movement since 2018, with a variety of sustainably grown gourmet mushrooms that have become the choice of chefs and lovers of great produce.
We had a chat with owner and mushroom farmer Adrian Acquado about how he brought the project to life, how mushroom farming inherently lends itself to sustainable agriculture practices and where mushrooms could fit within our future diets.
What first sparked your interest in mushrooms and the world of mycology?
I was really fascinated with produce and growing produce in an urban environment. I felt that that was going to be a pretty big thing in the future. I also had this strong love for cooking and I couldn’t find good mushrooms anywhere. I sort of just combined the two and that sent me down a rabbit hole which ended up with me having a farm.
Can you tell us a bit about starting off with your home mushroom farm?
So, in the beginning – about four years ago now – we had this grow station. It was pretty large-scale for a home mushroom farm. I had this house at the time – it was a little four bedroom spot – I reckon about 70 to 80 percent of it ended up being a part of the mushroom farm right of the bat. We certainly went fairly big scale. We wanted to see if the concept worked on a commercial level from the beginning.
Did it take long to decide to take it to the next level?
We wanted to see if we could grow on a small(ish) commercial scale first. Test the market with that and from there we planned to expand. We essentially just did three farmers markets, rented a premises and went full steam ahead.
From there the Mushroom Guys exploded and you made a new home over in Kardinya. How did you find the process of setting up the lab?
One of the rooms we had we essentially made a lab and incubation room. I had a whole room dedicated to it. Completely sealed off to any contaminants. We lined the entire room with a plastic sheet, set up all the filtration and then the lab.
Your mushrooms have found their way onto the menus of some of the best eateries in town. How have you found the public’s and hospitality industry’s response to your produce?
Really, really good. Better than I expected to be honest. Dealing with chefs is probably my favourite part of the job after all of these years. I do love growing mushrooms but dealing with the chefs and their passion is my favourite part of the job. Plus I really love food which is just a huge bonus in that regard as well.
Mushroom cultivation doesn’t require a lot of space to produce high yields of fast growing nutritious foods. Do you think urban mushroom cultivation is the future of nutrition and agriculture?
Yes and no. It does surprisingly take a lot of input to generate the produce. The mushrooms themselves – by the time you take into account all the wages, equipment, rent, power, water, all of it – do work out to be an expensive product. So in terms of day to day nutrition for the average person, unless we can bring the cost down significantly I don’t see it becoming overly viable for most people.
Mushroom substrates also utilise otherwise wasted materials – straw, hardwood sawdust, coffee grounds, the list goes on. Can you tell us about the environmental benefits that come from mushroom cultivation?
Yeah definitely! For us, we only use jarrah hardwood sawdust. You can use straw and coffee grounds – especially in the home setting those are quite good – but when you’re dealing with restaurants the quality of product you get purely from hardwood sawdust is much higher. The mushrooms are a lot nicer, a lot firmer, better taste, they don’t have as much water in them, just a much better product all round. A lot more reliable as well. We focus purely on that, because we’re so dedicated to providing the best produce to restaurants as possible, we do everything we can to make sure the mushrooms are the highest quality we can possibly produce.
With the rising popularity of gourmet mushroom cultivation, do you think society is becoming more open to the other potential uses of mycelium in society?
Without a doubt. I see it in my emails all of the time. There’s definitely an increase in curiosity from the public, especially in the last couple of years. I think with that as well, there’s a little more understanding from people. They are looking to explore the world of mushrooms and try to come up with new methods and expand on what we can potentially do with them.
Thanks to Milkwood Permaculture’s Kirsten Bradley and Nick Ritar, Future Food System’s Joost Baker and of course people like yourself, the knowledge and ability to grow mushrooms at home is more accessible than ever. Do you think mushroom cultivation will become a bigger part of how we eat in the future?
I think it’s more of a process of understanding. Those who get into mushroom cultivation are quick to learn that it can be a little bit intensive throughout the process. There’s just so many steps that you need to follow to make sure that you get good yields and actually produce some mushrooms. I think as people continue to learn a bit more and the future possibility of cheaper ‘grow at home’ kits – or even just making the supplying of the material that people need at home a bit easier – there’s certainly room for expansion in the future. It’s certainly something I’m looking to expand in the future. At the moment, I’m really limited by the space in our current premises, but expansion is definitely in the works.
You’re about to take your first holiday since starting The Mushroom Guys. Did you ever imagine the project would evolve into what it has?
I always sort of had goals in terms of output and what we’d be dealing with and doing, but I didn’t really understand in the beginning how intensive the workload would be. In the first couple of years myself and my ex-business partner would be putting in a minimum of a hundred hour weeks – that’s working seven days a week too. I haven’t had a Christmas off since we started the business. It’s every day of the year. We certainly weren’t expecting that and a number of other things. In terms of our production size – Perth has got a lot of potential in it. I think mushrooms are becoming a lot more popular. If you can produce the product then there is certainly demand for it.
You can catch The Mushroom Guys at Republic Of Fremantle’s upcoming Artisans Of The Republic event on September 29, and head to their website to find out more!
Image Credit: The Mushroom Guys via Facebook