Interview: Talking Gourmet Shrooms And Urban Farming With The Mushroom Guys

Love her or hate her, you can’t deny there’s nothing quite like it. Gourmet mushroom farming has exploded in recent years. The demand for sustainable, locally grown and delicious products has never been higher. Enter the Mushroom Guys. These local 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.

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We spoke to owner and mushroom grower Adrian Acquado about how he started the project, how mushroom farming inherently lends itself to sustainable agricultural practices, and where mushrooms might fit into our future diet.

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What sparked your interest in fungi and the world of mycology?

I was really fascinated with produce and growing produce in an urban environment. I had a feeling this was going to be a pretty big deal in the future. I also had this strong love for cooking and I couldn’t find good mushrooms anywhere. I just combined the two and that sent me down a rabbit hole that led to me having a farm.

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Can you tell us a bit about getting started with your home mushroom farm?

So in the beginning – about four years ago – we had this grow station. It was quite large for a domestic mushroom farm. I had this house back then – it was a little four bedroom place – I’m guessing about 70 to 80 percent of it was part of the mushroom farm right off the bat. We’ve certainly grown quite a bit. We wanted to see if the concept worked on a commercial level from the start.

Did it take you long to decide to take it to the next level?

We wanted to see if we could grow it on a small (somewhat) commercial scale first. Test the market with it and from there we planned to expand. We basically just did three farmers markets, rented a place and hit the ground running.

From there the Mushroom Guys exploded and you found a new home over in Kardinya. How did you find the structure of the laboratory?

One of the rooms we had we basically made into a lab and incubation room. I dedicated an entire room to him. Completely sealed against any contamination. We lined the entire room with plastic sheeting, set up all the filtration, and then the lab.

Their mushrooms have found their way onto the menus of some of the city’s finest restaurants. How have you experienced the reaction of the public and the hospitality industry to your products?

Really really good. Better than I expected to be honest. Dealing with chefs is probably my favorite part of the job after all these years. I love growing mushrooms but dealing with the chefs and their passion is my favorite part of the job. Also, I really love food, which is a huge bonus in that regard too.

Mushroom cultivation doesn’t require a lot of space to produce high yields of fast-growing, nutritious food. Do you think urban mushroom growing is the future of food and agriculture?

Yes and no. It takes a surprising amount of input to create the products. The mushrooms themselves – when you factor in all the wages, equipment, rent, electricity, water and all that – turns out to be an expensive product. In terms of everyday nutrition for the average person, I don’t see it becoming all that viable for most people unless we can cut costs significantly.

Mushroom substrates also use otherwise wasted materials – straw, hardwood sawdust, coffee grounds, the list goes on. Can you tell us about the environmental benefits of growing mushrooms?

Yes, definitely! For us, we only use Jarrah hardwood sawdust. You can use straw and coffee grounds – these are pretty good, especially around the house – but when you’re dealing with restaurants, the product quality you’re getting from just hardwood sawdust is much higher. The mushrooms are much nicer, much firmer, better flavor, they don’t have as much water in them, just a much better product all round. Also much more reliable. We focus solely on that because we are so committed to providing restaurants with the best possible produce and do everything we can to ensure the highest quality mushrooms we can possibly produce.

As gourmet mushroom growing becomes more popular, do you think society will become more open to other potential uses of mycelium in society?

Without doubt. I see it in my emails all the time. Public curiosity has definitely increased, especially in the last few years. I think that gives a bit more understanding from people. They want to explore the world of mushrooms and try to develop new methods and expand what we can potentially do with them.

Thanks to Kirsten Bradley and Nick Ritar of Milkwood Permaculture, Joost Baker of Future Food System, and of course people like yourself, the knowledge and skill of growing mushrooms at home is more accessible than ever. Do you think growing mushrooms will become a bigger part of our diet in the future?

I think it’s more of a process of understanding. Those who engage in mushroom cultivation quickly learn that it can be a little intense throughout the process. There are just so many steps you need to follow to ensure you get good yields and actually produce some shrooms. I think as people continue to learn a little bit more and make the future possibility of cheaper “grow at home” kits – or even just providing the stuff people need at home – a little bit easier – there’s certainly room for future ones extensions. It’s certainly something I’d like to expand on in the future. At the moment I’m very limited by the space in our current premises, but an expansion is definitely in the works.

You’re about to take your first vacation since you started The Mushroom Guys. Did you ever imagine the project would grow into what it has?

I always had certain goals in terms of performance and what we would do and what we would deal with and what we would do, but I didn’t really understand at the beginning how intense the workload was going to be. In the early years, my former business partner and I worked at least 100 hours a week – that’s seven days a week. I haven’t had a Christmas break since we started the business. It’s every day of the year. We certainly didn’t expect that and a few other things. In terms of our production scale – Perth has a lot of potential. I think mushrooms are becoming more and more popular. If you can produce the product, then surely there is a demand for it.

You can catch The Mushroom Guys at Republic Of Fremantle’s upcoming Artisans Of The Republic event on September 29th and head over to their website for more!

Photo Credit: The Mushroom Guys via Facebook

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