Commercial Button Mushroom Production & Myco-Materials | William Goss
Intro: Welcome, welcome Mush-fan to another episode of Mushroom Revival Podcast. We are a podcast dedicated to bridging the gap between the wonderful, wacky, mysterious world of fungi and you, our lovely, dedicated listeners. Mushroom Revival is a medicinal mushroom company based in South Deerfield, Massachusetts dedicated to bringing people more energy, a better night's sleep, a clear mind, and a bulletproof immune system with medicinal mushrooms. We not only revitalize inside, but also outside by planting one tree for every product that we sell. We love Cordyceps, but we also love all mushrooms in general.
Alex: So we have an awesome guest today. His name is William Goss and he is a dear friend of ours, and I am really excited to bring him on the show.
Madz: Yes, me too. Welcome William. William is a 29 year old mycophile residing in California. He has extensive experience in the plant and mushroom world and has spent the last three years working at Monterey Mushrooms, which is one of the country's largest producers of gourmet mushrooms and specifically Agaricus. Presently William is a production team leader at MycoWorks, which is a mushroom material company, specializing in (inaudible 02:02) amongst other things. So William, I know that your background is mostly with plants. At some point you made the switch to fungi and I wanted to ask you what made you switch?
William:Thank you so much for having me on. There wasn't a clear decision to go from plants to fungi. I think what really got me down the path I am on now, was taking some Mycology classes in college and being so fascinated by all this new information, new knowledge for me and for a lot of folks. So these are fascinating details, like the world's largest organism or like all these mushrooms with health benefits and culinary uses.
A lot of folks including all my friends did not know much about mushrooms and fungi also. Whereas a lot of people at my college at UC Davis were in plant sciences, plant biology; I followed plant genetics and there were a lot of agriculture classes. But there was a very small contingent of Mycophiles and Mycology-minded folks; but definitely a very small group.
It was also inspiring to want to continue getting the message out about fungi and mushrooms and stand up for them and give them a voice as so many of our mycophile friends do in their own unique way. And I think also because there is this continuing development of knowledge in Mycology, there is a way to brand yourself or find a niche within it while still finding that space for myself.
But I have certainly gained a lot of information and a unique perspective in it, which I very much value; and also gives you a lot of interesting stories. There is just so much to do within the field of Mycology. So, you can't have fungi really without plants, so I definitely appreciate them as well and I will continue enjoying plants, but, I am now a dedicated Mycophile and will probably until the day I die. (Crosstalk 04:53)
Alex: Exactly, wearing the 'Myco' death suit maybe. So you have a minor from UC Davis in what they call Fungal Biology and Ecology which is pretty much Mycology. What was it like to study Mycology in an academic setting?
William: It was really interesting, because every professor had their unique lens. Of course, they were there to do research with teaching being kind of a side part of their career. I think we all definitely enjoy having that duality of research and also learning, teaching and sharing, and also producing something besides just data and research.
But all the professors I had were very quirky. I was inspired from my first quarter at UC Davis with a Mushrooms, Molds and Society course taught by the Plant Pathology Chair at the time; his name is Dr. Thomas Gordon and he was a really funny guy. He had a lot of humor in his slides and it was a perfect introduction in academia to the world of fungi and mushrooms. There were a lot of themes that would happen.
Well that class was Mushrooms, Molds and Society. So we talked about the good and the bad; like fermentation, food and beverage, but also diseases, whether it's for humans or plants. So we got a great introduction to it and that got me hooked and then getting to do hands-on laboratory experiments in these classes was one of the most worthwhile things throughout my entire time in college.
In addition, or one of the upper division taxonomy courses, we actually went out into Salt Point; a State Park in California, one of the only ones that you can forage in legally. We went foraging out there and enjoyed some adult beverages after, and I think it was in the rain and everyone was in good spirits, because of our fun times hiking around the woods, looking for mushrooms. And then that was in collaboration with the SF State and UC Berkeley, I believe. So we got to collaborate with them on this hike and identify mushrooms together, which was a lot of fun.
So, al of these fun experiences really rounded out my time, my perspective, when it comes to Mycology and it was not like other classes for sure; it wasn't ever dry or slow. I always wanted to learn more and there were always great analogies and connections; whether it was Fungal Chemistry or the physical properties of fungi, how much pressure they can build up, pounds per square inch, all these interesting medicinal compounds was all so fascinating to me and really pushed me to go further down the rabbit hole.
Alex: A lot of people find it hard to study Mycology in an academic setting. I am curious how much of your mushroom knowledge is self-learned versus what you learned in academia?
William: That is a really great question and it has definitely changed throughout my life. One thing I'll add too is that a lot of the academic-institutional learning had as the backdrop, especially to the professor's research with the perspective of plant pathogens. So looking at fungi in the perspective that they are causing something wrong with plants, instead of what are the benefits of mushrooms and fungi?
So I think understanding that there was intention behind professors to teach in a certain way, or to be doing certain types of research made me understand that there is not only a lot of different ways to approach it, but that I could guide my own passion in it. And so from I think my first cultivation course I started to take these projects home with me.
So we would basically make mushroom kits for like 12 different mushroom species and we would harvest from them, we would go through the whole process of pasteurization, getting the proper wet weight of substrate and then inoculating in a certain way, and then putting them in these incubation chambers on campus and then watching the development. I asked my professor, Hey, what happens to these when they are done fruiting or when we have harvested them, are we just going to throw them away? And I asked, can I take these home with me? And that was one of my first attempts to self-learning and teaching myself about the life cycle of fungi.
It was great to kind of continue that relationship with mushrooms. I had these 12 mushroom friends that I got to bring home with me and they are all so unique and different. So, it opened my eyes; it doesn't stop in the classroom, it doesn't stop with a textbook or a course. And so, from there, I also started to feel more comfortable about going on forays with friends and that is another kind of self-learning about Mycology that could be connected to cultivation if you are cloning for mold species.
But, I think from my time in college, it maybe started off as like 90% or like 80% in the institution to like 10% or 20% on my own. Then when I left the university, I was living in the woods and going on forays and I took a friend to a radical mycology event in the Santa Cruz mountains, to get reinspired and continue that; and brought home some kits and things like that. So at that time it was very much like on my own learning or learning from some other individuals.
Now that I have had the privilege of working as a Mycologist, being employed, in the mycology world, that has kind of substituted the institution. And although that is what I do eight hours a day, I still make time for a mycology project here and there. So I have some Reishi blocks I am growing right now and just having the opportunity to continue to observe their life cycle, I think is very rewarding.
There are always unique little observations to glean and perspectives to tie together. So now maybe it is still back to that 80 to 20%, or maybe 75%, with work and 25% on my own. But I have these strong remembrances of my Mycology courses that don't necessarily help me at my work currently at MycoWorks maybe a little bit more at Monterey mushrooms, but they definitely guide me, while I am observing mycelium grow or thinking about what could be going wrong. So I continue to maintain that hybrid academic and personal mycology background while I am at work. It is this weird fusion right now that I am living in.
Madz:Sure. So I know that you have a lot of experience with compost. I believe you gave a talk on compost at the New Moon Mycology Summit and I am just wondering, like what role do fungi play in compost and vice versa how compost plays a role with growing mushrooms?
William: Excellent. Yes, that is a great question because anyone who composts, you could kind of consider a mycologist because you are relying on fungi, yeast at times and fermentation. There are also a lot of bacteria. There are a lot of these organisms called actinomycetes and compost relies on these microorganisms for decomposition and it can be aerobic fermentation. It can be anaerobic; that is when it smells really bad and that skews the ratio of those different types of organisms.
There are so many different styles of composting, whether you have a three bin kind of system, you may have vermicomposting, which relies on worms. And they have their own microorganisms within themselves that are helping with the breakdown. But that compost is a fascinating thing. It seems so simple. It is dirt or soil, but actually it is this constantly evolving, very sensitive material; it's fluctuating with all of its chemical constituents from where it starts, basically any sort of organic material can be broken down.
So you have innumerable numbers of variables when it comes to the creation of composts. And actually that is why creating compost for a mushroom growing operation for something specific, like Agaricus bisporus which is a decomposer of this compost versus things like Oyster Mushrooms or Shiitake, which are growing on sawdust normally or highly carbonous straw. It is critically important to get consistent compost.
Madz: You worked at Monterey Mushrooms growing Agaricus, what did you do there and how did you get good substrate to come in? Because you just mentioned that this is a fungus that prefers more of an earth cocktail of compost; over just some cardboard or basic cellulose lignin kind of stuff.
William: Yes, so I was a grower for Monterey mushrooms which is actually a fairly ambiguous title for the type of work that I did. But I was involved in the active growing of the mycelium and the fruit of the Agaricus of the button mushroom. We grew Baby Bella's, which is a Brown strain. We grew Portobellos which are another Brown strain; it is actually the Baby Bella strain, but then allowed to let grow bigger and mature; and then we had Delta or a white strain of mushrooms.
And I was in production rooms mainly where we would be fruiting, going from primordia or the pinheads of mushrooms into first flush, second flush and hopefully a third flush. And I was helping run the environmental controls and coordinating with our general labor crew, who did integrative pest management of the trace to prevent diseases from spreading or from occurring in the first place.
I would also coordinate with irrigators who were literally walking on these very tall stacks of trays of composts inoculated with mycelium and fruiting. And they would take wands like hoses and just hose off the trays using maybe like 200 gallons of water per room. And I had domain over about 20 production rooms a day, sometimes 30. And thinking about how big these rooms were; we had several hundred trays in each room. The trays were easily 10 feet high and maybe 12 long, 12 trays deep and like four trays wide; and the other dimension would be like another three or four, totaling about over 200 trays per room.
So, each one of them is grown a little differently, trying to maintain consistency in the rooms and ultimately, what we are in business for is growing the most mushrooms and best quality; quality is a major consideration for any sort of fungal operation. We would encounter a lot of blotch which comes from bacteria called Pseudomonas; and that is the kind of brown spotting that you will see in the grocery store. It is totally edible still. It's not unsafe or toxic to eat but it is something people avoid and don't want to buy and so it actually results in a lot of waste.
I cannot tell you the tons and tons of mushrooms that would be thrown out every single day; literally thousands of pounds. We would be throwing away more mushrooms per day than would grow in an operation in a week somewhere else. So it was staggering and I was personally invested just for my own sake, my own morals and ethics, and to some degree, being a professional mushroom grower to prevent that waste. But also at the same time, optimize the room and get the most out of the compost essentially.
Other interesting things that came up at work- really working on a staggered pin set, to get a stagger of large mushrooms that our harvesters would pick with ease, every single day, instead of little ones that take a lot longer to pick. So we were thinking of the harvesters as this labor being needed to be maximized with their productivity, to have the highest pounds per hour, essentially. So, they are getting paid to pick the most and top quality for our customers. We would sell the big box stores like Costco, Safeway, Wal-Mart; grocery stores of this magnitude.
Madz: I have seen Monterey mushrooms out here on the East coast and also in different stores.
William: They are Nationwide; they are all over. And it is apart of their market strategies to kind of have a market all across the United States.
Alex: So tell us about the different types of Agaricus bisporus mushrooms. I am sure people who don't know much about mushrooms will be shopping in the grocery store and they will look and they'll see Button mushrooms and see Portobello. They'll see Baby bellas. We'll see Creminis. They will see all these different types and I have run into a lot of people who do not know those are the same exact mushroom in different growing stages, right?
Do you want to describe what is going on and are they the same mushroom and what is the difference? Because some of them are different colors and different shapes. Maybe you could go into detail for our listeners about what are the different types of Agaricus bisporus.
William: Excellent. Great point and it is something that comes up a lot for me as well, and it is actually like one of the first kind of points of information that people can be like, Oh, I know this about Portobellos, for instance, also being a button mushroom. My background is in plant genetics specifically, and worked in a seed production facility. I learned what a breeding program looks like; and Monterey Mushrooms has a very active breeding program selling strains to other mushroom farm customers.
And so there are these very unique differences between strains. But it's all Agaricus bisporus, just like how we are Homosapien, we have got the same (crosstalk 23:56) species, but there are these sub-species or the term in agriculture is cultivar or cultivated variety. And what that gets down to is the chromosomes and base spears and the alleles can be different from very specific gene complexes or very specific genes; where maybe you have slight bump in disease resistance, or you have a slightly shorter growing cycle.
So I mentioned a few of the strains that we grow and there is actually a really interesting story behind the Baby Bella mushroom, which is a Brown variety which is actually found on the coast of California. It is one of the Agaricus bisporus that is local to California and it is actually from my understanding that species that has a global distribution. But there are these very unique sub-species all around the world. And so they took that wild genetics and put it into the breeding line that was probably brought over from Europe.
There is also bisporus from France. I think that was like the origin and the history of Agaricus bisporus as we know it. But that heirloom strain from this wild species really was vigorous and gave mushroom growers, all these traits that they did not have before, or just much better versions of them and so that is a specific strain. Cremini might be a specific strain as well. There are Portobellos, which can be a specific strain, but it could also be another brown variety than now with a different farming system and different maturation to let it grow bigger, open up. I have even seen white Portobellos which take the (crosstalk 26:13) in Australia. And it all gets down to also into the market. What does the customer want? What's palatable for them?
Alex: Yes. I am surprised that we do not do this with Shiitake. I mean, there is Danko with the cracked cap; you see that in Japan and China for Shiitake. But I don't really know of this being very common with other types of mushrooms; maybe I am wrong. But it would be cool to see different types of Cordyceps. They are all Cordyceps militaris, but they may be grown a different way and they would be called a different name. That would be really cool and people would say, oh, this is a tincture of this type and that would be really awesome.
William: I think we are entering this age with CRISPR technology and just an increased focus into the food system and the medicine we are putting in our bodies, to find those unique traits that really resonate and connect with people. And so you see it actually in the culinary world where chefs are almost leading that charge and working with seed producers to develop new strains. So you could go to your local nursery and buy 20 different types of basil or something. And so that's a really cool field. I hope to get more into fungal genetics and breeding as something as well.
Alex: Yes that's awesome. Genetics are huge, especially for Cordyceps for us because they senesce really quickly, so they start to peter out. So genetics is crucial for growing Cordyceps in particular. But Button mushrooms or Agaricus bisporus mushrooms are a little bit different than most gourmet mushrooms and how to grow it; just like Cordyceps are a little bit different. Can you walk our listeners through just kind of like a basic steps of how do Agaricus bisporus mushrooms grow, or how does a button mushroom grow? What are the basic steps of cultivation?
William: For sure. So you have to make some compost. We were making composts and we were getting our materials from stable bedding with our primary source of straw and the carbon and some nitrogen which came from the bedding of race horses. We have a few race horse tracks around the Bay area. So we would mix that with a lot of chicken manure or dried poultry waste as they call it in the industry. Those two facts alone should be considered for vegans who do not want to be supporting the animal industrial complex.
There is also like feather meal that can be used in mushroom growing in specifically Agaricus bisporus. So we make compost; also gypsum is a huge ingredient, and then you would also find other nitrogen supplements in this commodity market competing with cattle ranchers, who also need a nitrogen supplement for their feedstock, for their organisms, cows, horses, or pigs.
So a lot of seed holes maybe from a process like an oil processing plant. So you may get that sort of picture. It is like an the agricultural waste product, but it is not waste at all. We use giant mechanical turners, these giant tractors with bars and teeth that mix it all up, while also adding water. That is the way we turn the compost. You do that several times in about like a three week process and then we have finished that compost.
The compost is then ready to go to the next phase that would be considered phase one. You can actually do that indoors; that is actually the running trend right now, is having insulated room that actually injects air, removing the need to turn a pile. You may still flip it to mix around the amendments. But that is phase one in (crosstalk 31:06).
Alex: Sounds like a small room.
William: (Crosstalk 31:09) Some people do it in a cargo freight container and so that's phase one or like on a wharf would be the outdoor facility. And then we have a tray system at Monterey, and so that compost was loaded into trays. We would also sometimes add oil, from corn or soy. Oil has been shown to help with the yields and there are a lot of theories behind that. We would then go to phase two.
Alex: That's great. Yeah. I would never have expected that. That's awesome. We were actually doing experiments with adding oil for Cordyceps production. So now you have got me to revisit that. Yes. We will table that. We will have a side conversation.
William: Yeah. The benefits of oil; There is a good paper out there about it. You can think of oil as in cooking; it helps move heat around. That is how I liken it. Because then we have phase two and that is pasteurization. So it's thermophilic composting very hot temperatures it goes up to 180 degrees and it is meant to be maintained through the succession of microorganisms that are still present through pasteurization, which is around 140 degrees.
There is this conditioning that is dropping it down and all that time you have these thermophiles that these organisms that live in these hot environments. Then as the temperature lowers new organisms take their place, eating their earlier succession organisms also compost. And then eventually kind of have this blank slate with some microorganisms that aren't taken over. The compost gets down to a reasonable temperature where you can inoculate and so phase three would be inoculation. And a lot of times there are amendments that are added at that stage to help boost productivity because of how nutritional flows go.
So then it is left to incubate or colonize would be another term. It is getting fully inoculated. That happens for a couple of weeks in Agaricus growing. As with a few other mushroom growing operations, we use a casing layer. A casing layer is a less nutrient dense growing media. This could be peat moss. It could be vermiculite. It could be a mix of those things. It could be coco coir which a lot of home growers are privy to. This is meant to be a water reservoir, also a barrier from infection; because you have the compost that is full of the Agaricus bisporus mycelium.
Then you have that layer of casing and then that is actually also inoculated. And as that mycelium grows, it connects to the compost mycelium, and then when they connect, they start to pin. Then when the pin or primordial as the baby mushroom, the tiny little pinhead, which has all of cells needed for a large mushroom.
But then this water pump drives water into the mushroom. And then those cells expand and fill with water, and then it gets to be nice and plump and right for harvesting. Then it is really the harvesters’ decision when to harvest and that also gets into shelf lengths. At Monterey Mushrooms, we employed hundreds of harvesters. Other operations have automatic harvesting that is more of a consideration for canned or preserved mushrooms. Handpicked mushrooms are more for like a fresh market.
And then we also have a packing line and that puts it into those neat little plastic boxes with Saran wrap essentially, and they are coded for traceability and put into other boxes and then put into trucks and then the trucks go to the store and then people go to the store, you buy it, or you buy another mushroom too and take it home and cook, and that is kind of the life cycle. And then it's inside you. And then you have some nice mushroom medicine.
Madz: That is crazy. I am curious about your spawn, if you can really quickly mention, like if you are using a grain spawn or what medium that was?
William: Yes, it has changed a lot. I think the industry standard right now is millet and that is a small grain which means that there are a lot of inoculation points for your compost and also gets eaten up by the fungi relatively quickly; so to prevent contamination that that spawn is in breathable bags. But not too porous because you have to maintain some ambient humidity inside of what is normally a plastic bag.
Madz: So how many mushrooms does Monterey produce per week? I am sure it changes but…
William: Constantly changing. So number of pounds of mushrooms or number of mushrooms?
Alex: I am curious on both.
Madz: On both, actually.
William: Yes, for sure.
Alex: If you know the latter number.
William: That is a crazy question to ask. (crosstalk 37:56) Millions upon millions of mushrooms a week. We were shooting for above 400,000 pounds a week, every week (crosstalk 38:10) Yeah. That's a big number, hard to quantify. But just imagine trucks upon trucks, semis on semis full of mushrooms.
Alex: Wow, that is insane!
Madz: I can't even picture this. I can’t.
Alex: I mean, I used to work in the gourmet industry and it was a small farm and we were proud of 500 pounds. We were like, yeah!
Madz: Yes a small farm. (crosstalk 38:41) We were proud of like 100.
Alex: Four hundred thousand, that's insane, a week.
William: Well be proud of that and I am sure you gave those hundred pounds of mushrooms so much care, you know?
Madz: Yes and this was like, Hericium and Pink oyster and all those kind of revered gourmet mushrooms. So there is a bit more price to their weight. But yeah, I got to look at and touch every single mushroom. So there was a lot of like intimacy.
Alex: That is a massive scale. What would you say was the most difficult thing or challenge that you faced or the business faced at such a large commercial scale?
William: It is important to note that Monterey Mushrooms are definitely the top in the nation, but arguably the world, at least in the Western hemisphere. So the farm I was working at was the continent's largest organic mushroom producer. So it was essentially the top dog; that was just kind of what we were told. There are also other massive button mushroom farms, like Highline up in Canada and Premier (crosstalk 40:10) and these farms are growing also.
Part of mushroom growing is staying above your competitors. So we actually had competitors from outside of California who would be trying to cut into our market share and that was tough. We needed to keep shelf-life high. That is something I have worked on. We needed to stay in compliance. I worked as the Water Systems Operator Distributor and Treatment Specialist. And you can look it up Monterey Mushrooms has had difficulties complying with water regulations resulting in fines and farms being shut down.
Agaricus bisporus cultivation requires a lot of water. We managed million gallon ponds, we would rent massive tanks when the rainy season was kind of too much and there was too much rainfall. Think of a massive facility and all that rain water is collecting mushroom debris. So outside of the environmental factors of growing, there is also using old outdated equipment.
Power failures were a real thing. We would have difficulties controlling temperatures in the heat down in Santa Clara County. It would be above a hundred degrees and mushrooms really, do not like a hundred degree weather. That is why you do not see mushrooms really growing in the summertime in California except for where the snow is melting. So those are constant difficulties.
Big time for any mushroom growing operation, for the kind of consumer edible market is the holiday season of November and December where you have a lot of families together, a lot of consumption, and a lot of eating. So we would really try to hit our marks for Christmas, for Thanksgiving, those kinds of time-zones and that just meant more people were buying and eating mushrooms, and that was an opportunity for us to just make more money essentially.
We would ramp up production. Whenever you ramp up production, you also have to pay more for your employees to work longer with your harvesting folks. You would get paid to some degree by how much you would be picking. Also, you have to have a fairly efficient packing operation, that takes all those mushrooms that are picked and making each packing line operator technician working at the fullest capacity.
So really getting the most out of what I would consider cogs in this hopefully well oiled machine operating smoothly, with no hiccups. Equipment - technology is not perfect. It breaks down. It gets worn out. Sanitation is a major thing. Disease is a major thing. Appropriate use of irrigation is very important. Having all your supplies ready; all these things take a lot of coordination and a lot of deliberate action, thought, planning, and organization. So having strong managers and having a clear vision, to see it out, is super important. So managing people is just as important as the biology side.
Madz: I am curious as to what your thoughts are and why Agaricus is so popular and why aren’t other gourmet mushrooms taking the reins like Agaricus is?
William: Yes, that is a really good question. I really think it comes back to scalability and where you can cut out labor. We have a rising desire for a livable wage. Of course people should be paid enough to house themselves and feed their families. But it comes in conflict with technology that may be more efficient maybe over the long term; less expensive than paying people.
So you have countries growing button mushrooms that never had it in their culture. It's not really something that was a part of people's culture until like the last several decades. Agaricus bisporus button mushrooms they started in Europe and in France growing in caves, and it was super inefficient. But now we have these massive scale composting operations. I mentioned the indoor facilities. These are all kind of technological advances that have cut people out. But ultimately have enabled a society to produce mushrooms on a massive scale.
Alex: What do you think is the main difference that sets Monterey Mushrooms apart; the big dog, from all these other mushroom farms and what was the number one thing that you saw them do whether it would be a technological advancement or a way of managing their people? What set them apart, which allowed them to produce 400,000 pounds a week? That's incredible.
William: Okay. Well, it does not happen over night. You start small, you succeed and do well, and you continue to invest and reinvest into the company. So Monterey Mushrooms is privately owned, which means there is no Board of Directors. There are no shareholders and that means you have the owner really calling shots. I went around the Wharf with the owner of Monterey Mushrooms and talked about what was the best way to make compost.
Maybe some people could consider that micromanaging, but really I think finding the right people and making sure those people are committed. And then there is, no one thing, right? You try out new things and another thing I would say is you have to be open to change; but you approach new technology and development cautiously. Because whenever you do that, you have to reframe your system. You change, reform and revise your standard operating procedures to include these differences.
So you grow when it makes sense to grow and you conserve energy and wait and learn when it does not make sense to spend money. People say you spend money to make money and sometimes that makes sense. You get new fancy technology, but no one knows how to use it yet. So does it make sense to invest money and time in rolling it out?
One thing a few mushroom farms are starting to adopt is a technology called NIR-Near infrared spectrometer. It is way of analyzing compost and understanding and making the best substrate for your mycelium for your spawn. It is one of the most important things. So that is technology that is starting to get utilized. But I wouldn't say that that is a silver bullet in how we are going to go from 400,000 pounds to 500,000 pounds.
There are very small mushroom growing operations that are super efficient when the metric is pounds per square foot of compost. I am thinking of the compost as a two dimensional, growing surface. As we know, it is definitely not that. But sometimes maybe we are less than a half of another mushroom farm; but just because of the sheer size and scale we could still out produce everyone else.
That kind of power in the marketplace can drive the economics and make the Monterey Mushrooms, the top dog of the industry standard as far as what the prices are and that is huge. You can out-compete your competitors just because you have more volume and can sell it for cheaper. And most of the time if you can grow basically the same product, but sell it for less that is what people are going to go for.
Madz: What do you think is the future of gourmet mushrooms? I feel like people are eating them more and more these days, and as the demand goes up, how will we supply?
William: Yes, definitely more automation technology. Of course, that is the running standard in all industry. But (inaudible 51:10) I don't want to sound too pessimistic. But one thing we touched on earlier is genetics. I think there will be continued improvements and changes in the strains that we are growing. I think genetically modified fungi will be a thing. I think it is being regulated and opened up for the mushroom industry.
William: The first kind of adopters, if I read that article right; the government has allowed for CRISPR technology to be used on mushrooms, but no one has done it yet, or it is not out there in the public yet, even though it has been done. I think a Chinese professor developed a strain that would not show signs of blotching. This is similar to the Arctic Fox or these Arctic Apple varieties. And, they don't bruise, they don't Brown when they are cut, which is really weird because as humans we want to know when our food is not good, and that bruising is one indicator, maybe not the best; I mentioned totally edible still. I think we will see more of that.
You are totally right; more people are eating mushrooms, because more people our age and our generation don't want to be eating meat, though I mentioned that mushrooms require a lot of input from the animal industrial complex. I am one of the first people to tell people that mushrooms are one of the least nutritious. You are eating a lot of water.
They do have antioxidants and then they do have minerals that are important. But even oyster mushrooms to me are more flavorful. They have more protein. Shiitake are one of my favorite. Lion's Mane also has these very unique medicinal compounds. So what I hope is that more people will eat more diversity of mushrooms. I am not saying eating mushrooms is a bad thing, but there is a whole big world of mushrooms out there. I think we'll find new mushroom farms growing new different types of mushrooms.
So I am really proud of you all at Mushroom Revival for not only growing lots of Cordyceps but introducing people to lots of different mushroom species. These are organisms. These are kind of our lost long forgotten friends that this micro phobic culture in the United States has pushed away actively. And the work of you all, the work of MycoWorks, we are kind of bringing fungi back and more in the mainstream. So I hope to see kind of a reversal with just the culture around it and then that is happening for sure.
Alex: It starts with us and this podcast. We just have to get the information out about mushrooms and I am super curious. You just brought up MycoWorks. You are now working for MycoWorks which is a mycelial material company. So with this you are literally trying not to fruit mushrooms. So you went from working at the biggest mushroom producer to something that tries actively not to grow mushrooms. So tell us a bit more about MycoWorks. What do they do and are you allowed to disclose some cool projects they are working on? What can you talk about? What can't you?
William: Yeah, thank you for inviting me. It's (inaudible 55:09) out of MycoWorks and I won't be able to tell too much about the cool projects that MycoWorks is currently under way. They are doing cool projects. I will tell you that it is similar to a mushroom growing operation. But, it is actively not growing mushrooms, it is growing mycelium which is the vegetative growth of fungi; kind of a clear distinction between the two. But we are a Myco materials or bio materials company.
It is a startup, or right now kind of bridging that gap. We have a small team of dedicated, committed, excited people that have all sorts of different backgrounds. Our founder Phil Ross is an artist and designer, and we have folks that have studied material sciences. We have engineers. We are getting more folks that understand how to work with software and technology to bring that level of sophistication to what some people would call cellular farming venture.
So I have a strong mycology background. But we also have folks that have never worked with mycelium. In fact I would say the majority of the folks with MycoWorks, do not have a biology background, don't have a mycology background. And that is also really powerful perspective is to bring in outsiders (crosstalk 57:06) in fact that could be an asset. Sometimes, myco people, fungi people have some strong perspectives when it comes to mushroom growing or mycelium and that can get in the way of what's kind of the best approach or how to develop a system to implement the way we grow it.
So, yes, I signed an NDA nondisclosure and so I cannot get into specifics and fortunately, and unfortunately for the viewers; fortunately for me, and unfortunately for the viewers, like most of my day is involved in those kinds of specific operations. So I am a production lead and I get to work with a small group of individuals in basically a clean room environment.
We are growing the leather, we are growing these myco hides, these mycelium mats and we are not to market yet. We are not selling. You can't go into a store yet and buy it, but hopefully soon. And, I will say that there are such unique differences from one piece of leather to another. Fungi take on a very interesting growth habit and it is truly a privilege and blessing to be at MycoWorks and continue (crosstalk 58:57) my ecology career.
Madz: So for those of us who are really interested in myco materials, can you offer any recommendations on where to start or what resources we can access and get a bit more information?
William: There are so many new startups in the realm of biomaterials, Myco materials is only one branch of that. And I had this new understanding. Think of the number of compostable objects out there, whether it's a compostable cup, knife, spoon or plate; people are finding out that there are all these waste streams that produce this material that can be transformed through a specific processing operation that yields something that is important to us, that replaces things like plastic.
MycoWorks is aimed at offering an alternative to leather and cruelty-free leather. Though depending on your perspective you could wonder why certain conditions are giving the fungi and what they think about it: If they are thinking about it. As far as what is out there for resources, I would recommend looking online for just the sheer, vast number of startups of businesses entering our society.
Another approach would be to really get to understand whether it is an organism like fungi for their mycelium. There are companies like Ecovative and Bolt Threads that are utilizing some fermentation and mycelium ventures. I have heard of folks using avocado pits for different cutlery and plates and things. I think I also even heard of like coffee grounds being used; scobys from kombucha being used.
These are all unique organisms that now have some opportunity, some potential. I am a biologist at heart and so I like when people get into biology; get into mycology. There are so many different species of fungi that will produce really interesting growth and so maybe we use Reishi, Ganoderma lucidum or, you another species. I don't honestly know, but someone may find a different species that has some great niche in our market.
So another approach would be to just look around your kitchen, maybe empty out your garbage bin and look at what we are sending to the landfill that we could be putting into our compost bin. So think outside of the box. There are so many opportunities I believe, and so much fun to be had. There is all this utility and functionality, but there's also a lot of design and artistic opportunities out there as well.
Alex: And I like what you said, it is not just mushrooms. Mushrooms are amazing, but there are so many other synergies and symbiosis that we can use and we can use avocado pits or Kombucha or whatever can make these materials. We see a lot of compostable forks and plates and all these new eco-materials. We are actually about to release some new biodegradable packaging, which we are super excited for and there are new biodegradable mushroom grow bags that have just hit the market.
Alex: Which we said Oh my God! It was like the skeleton in the closet for a lot of commercial, gourmet mushroom producers. They grow in these plastic bags and they throw them out and there are these massive mounds of it and it's kind of heart-wrenching. But now they have biodegradable bags, which is super important and we are going to sell our Cordyceps in them and we are excited.
But why aren't we seeing these myco materials on the market? I want Myco leather to replace leather so we are not relying on the cattle industry and (crosstalk 01:04:21) just everything. It seems like Myco materials can be a huge replacement for these massive industries that are not sustainable. What is the drawback? What is the single biggest challenge that you see that is getting in the way of replacing these materials? Is it lack of funding? Is it just not getting the R and D squared away? Is it maybe a combination of both?
William: So there are all these new things starting up, but it is just the beginning. We could trace our origins of biomaterials. You can call leather a biomaterial. It is animal product, biomaterials. But we're looking for alternatives and that require maybe a perspective change and a new knowledge pool to develop. And so certainly there is a lot of research and development into that, which takes a lot of funding when you don't produce something for selling yet.
You are not selling yet and these you are perfecting and that will continue. But eventually you have to produce something to sell to people to fund the operation. So it is a little bit of both for sure. Also, there are perhaps perspective changes in the consumer that these alternatives are just as good, if not better or more interesting. They tell a different story that you would like to participate in; the idea of wearing a mycelium leather jacket to me would be so awesome. I cannot wait.
Alex: I am right there with you.
Madz: If my memory serves me, there was a car; a model of a Tesla that had a Myco leather in their shift gear. But it failed. I think it just didn't quite hold up, I guess. But this was a few years ago and things are getting more refined and we are perfecting these systems or what do you think the future of Myco materials could be?
William: Well, that is a good point. Because there is also looking back on the history and thinking of mycelium and this mycelial leather as like another type of leather. The process of tanning leather and processing it is almost like an ancient tradition, going back centuries and centuries. And it has been a process that's been perfected. There are all these unique, different types.
Now we are finding a lot of plastic leathers that I think people are turning away from and looking for another alternative besides this not like vegan cruelty-free. But yeah, I think there is also this looking back in history and thinking of things differently than we are now and that kind of invites us to open the box of what is possible. I am not a material scientist. I am not an expert in leather or fashion and design.
But I am intrigued because it opens my understanding of what it takes to have a profitable Myco materials company; because people have to want it, and then it also has to function well. So you mentioned that the failing of the Tesla gear leather which shows you how many different uses that this leather could hold: But if it fails at its primary function of sticking together and being a material.
It could mold. It can decompose. You are not supposed to wear leather on a rainy day; there are these environmental considerations and what do people actually do to it when they have it, are all really important. So as there are so many challenges, there are so many opportunities and just kind of getting into it right now.
Alex: That is awesome. This whole podcast has been really informative and amazing on so many different levels. I feel like we got a peek into the biggest mushroom producer in the world. And then also on this cutting edge, super secret, Myco materials hub. This is great. I am really glad that you came on the show. I have one final question that I ask all our guests and this is also question for our listeners as well. We want to hear your thoughts. So please put them in the comments section below, or email us at email@example.com. The question is, if mushrooms could talk and if they had a microphone what would they tell the whole human race in a couple of sentences?
William: That is an amazing question. And I think from my relationship with them my answer to that would be, speaking as a mushroom or mycelium; eat me, grow me, pick me, respect me, love me.
Alex: Amazing. Thank you. (crosstalk 01:11:04) This has been a great episode and we love having you on and you came out to visit us not too long ago. Now it feels like forever ago and we need to go to Cali. I want to go to Cali and it seems like a good place. We will plan it for the winter time here. That seems like a good visit in the winter time.
William: Perfect time too. (crosstalk 01:11:32)
Alex: Amazing. So thank you everyone for tuning in. If you have any questions, comments, we would love to hear your feedback. Please put it in the comment section below, or send us an email. Reach out to us on social media or however you want to reach us. We are connected to you and please check out our website, www.mushroom-revival.com and follow our social media and check out our eBook. You can download it on our website, sign up for our email list and as always mush love and made the spores be with you. (inaudible 01:12:14)