Curiouser & Curiouser
Q&A with Donald Harris of Central Valley Mushrooms
Edible: What inspired you to start a business growing mushrooms?
Donald: I was first introduced to saprophytic mushrooms, such as oyster mushrooms, while attending Fresno City College. I was studying business in 2014 and had an assignment to research a company that took a byproduct of another company, allowing them to start a successful business. The company I found is called Back to the Roots, based out of San Francisco. They take spent coffee grounds from Starbucks and create mushroom grow kits. I was amazed and skeptical at the same time, so I ordered a kit. I was hooked after I completed my first mushroom kit. Not having anything other than canned cream of mushroom soup, I decided to make a homemade version. It was with that first spoonful that my life changed. I understood the power of fresh mushrooms and did not look back.
Fast forward six years later, the global pandemic was among us, I found myself with more time around the house. I attended our local farmers market to buy some mushrooms, but they did not look fresh. It was also a surprise that our mushroom vendor was not from the area. This was bothersome to me, since we are known for agriculture all around the world. This led me to local grocery stores, only to find out the same result. It was at that moment that I felt we needed a local mushroom farmer. Central Valley Mushrooms was born, allowing me to bring my passion for sustainable and urban farming to the agricultural capital of the world. I have been well received by the community as mushrooms are becoming overwhelmingly more popular. It has been an amazing journey and I am interested to see where mushrooms take me next.
Edible: Is this a family-run venture or do you operate solo?
Donald: Currently, I operate solo with the help of a few local volunteers once a week. The dream is to become large enough to make it into a family venture. My eldest child is still a toddler, but I look forward to the day he is part of the operations on the farm.
Edible: Tell us about your process and how it’s unique.
Donald: Just like the mushrooms we grow, there are many unique characteristics to Central Valley Mushrooms. We produce mushrooms within the city of Fresno, off Clinton and Highway 99, in an industrial warehouse. We have to create an ideal environment for the mushrooms to grow. We try to keep the temperature at 70 degrees and the humidity around 90 percent year-round. We are able to produce over four pounds of mushrooms on a single grow bag, using less than two liters of water. This is astonishingly less than any other crop grown in our area, especially in a time of drought. We also pride ourselves in only serving the local markets, ensuring we do our fair share to help reduce the carbon footprint. Our mushrooms are picked and delivered the same day to ensure optimal freshness.
Edible: What varieties do you farm?
Donald: We farm king, blue, elm and brown oyster mushrooms, along with shiitake, maitake, lion’s mane and pioppino mushrooms.
Edible: What are the health benefits associated with mushrooms?
Donald: Fungus has so many health benefits to offer mankind, from Penicillium to Hericium erinaceus (lion’s mane). There are so many benefits, I don’t even know where to begin or end. Mushrooms have found their way in the spotlight of the news very frequently over the past year and continue to be the topic of scientific advancements. I do know that oyster mushrooms are great for the cardiovascular system and lion’s mane is taken as a supplement to boost cognitive development. I definitely encourage people to do research and see if mushrooms can bring some benefits to their lives.
Edible: What do you enjoy most about your business?
Donald: Being an urban farm and producing a food source while using little natural resources. People are interested in mycology and I am in a position to expand their horizons. It also joys me that one day my kids will know about fungus at a young age and hopefully they will enjoy it as much as I do. I was 30 years old when I was first introduced to mycology through a handful of pioneers in the industry, such as Paul Stamets, T.R. Davis, Andrew Reed and Eric Myers. I can’t even imagine where I would be if I started at a younger age.
Edible: What’s on the horizon for Central Valley Mushrooms?
Donald: We have some exciting changes coming for 2022. Let’s just say that our mycelial network has been expanding rapidly and you will soon see our mushrooms popping up everywhere.
Edible: Where can your mushrooms be found?
Donald: Our mushrooms can be found at farmers markets, River Park and Visalia. They are also found at local restaurants, such as Heirloom in north Fresno, Libelula in Downtown and Veni Vidi Vici in the Tower District. We also provide grow-kits online at www.centralvalleymushrooms.com •