Mr. Mercy’s Mushrooms

Mr. Mercy’s Mushrooms is a small-scale seasonal mushroom farm focused on producing high-quality gourmet and medicinal mushrooms. Farmers Robin Mercy and Tamara Swartzentruber grow mushroom varieties appropriate to our West Kootenay climate, using minimal energy, and they place high importance on educating people about mushroom growing and its place in a system of local food security.

Who are the farmers at Mr. Mercy’s Mushrooms?
Robin Mercy and Tamara Swartzentruber

Where are you located?
Kaslo, BC

What do you grow?
Assorted gourmet and medicinal mushrooms, including Oyster, Shiitake, Lion’s Mane, Reishi, Enoki, Chestnut, and many others. We also produce mushroom spawn and Grow-at-Home kits for home cultivation and are working on a line of dried mushroom products for the future.

How would you describe your farm?
We are a small-scale seasonal mushroom farm focused on producing high-quality edible and medicinal mushrooms. We try to grow varieties appropriate to our West Kootenay climate, using minimal energy inputs and a hardwood-based fruiting mix. As well as providing unique and hopefully enjoyable produce, we are committed to educating people about mushroom growing and its place in a system of local food security. We supply customers with kits and spawn for home-growing projects, teach workshops on myco-permaculture, and partner with local herbalists to create mushroom-based medicines. We hope to showcase the beauty, diversity, and mystery of the fungal kingdom, and provide a delicious entrance point for people to start on their own exploration of mushrooms.

How long have you been in business?
I [Robin] have been growing for 4 years, and operating my farm as a business for 2.

What motivated you to start?
I have been foraging for wild mushrooms for over a decade, and that, combined with a lifetime love of science, prompted me to get into cultivation. I spent just over a decade in the forestry industry (most of it in management) and though I love that work, I wanted to start a project where I could be my own boss and also develop a deeper relationship with the land and community of my hometown. That–combined with having my first child–convinced me to stay home and become a full-time farmer.

What are some of your greatest joys?
The sense of exploration and discovery I get when working. Small-scale mushroom farms are becoming much more common, but the field of mycology is still one where the dedicated amateur can make real contributions. I’ve cloned strains from the wild and fruited them at home, worked with uncommon varieties, and generally done a ton of experimenting. Besides that aspect of the work, I really love the Farmer’s Market scene. Mushrooms seem to act as a magnet for interesting people, and I always end up having long and
engaging conversations about all things fungal. Also seeing what chefs and market clients make with my produce is pretty rewarding.

What are some of your greatest challenges?
The flip-side of the adventure of finding out new information is that there often isn’t an established path. It can be frustrating and discouraging trying to deal with both the farming and the business aspects of the operation without any real training in either.
That, and the unique challenge of mushrooms: tracking down invisible contaminants in your clean-room so that you don’t have to throw out another whole batch of contaminated blocks is a big one.

What is your vision for your farm/company?
To provide high-quality local ingredients that people can feel good about. Working to reduce waste and pioneer growing techniques that will make our products both affordable and ecologically sound.

Why is local food and/or local purchasing important to you?
From a pragmatic viewpoint, I like knowing that there are producers around that can supply our communities as our world shifts rapidly. Food is literally life, and as such is a cornerstone of any local culture. On a personal level, I just like knowing the people who are making things that I use. The story is important to me and makes the products better.

If you could deliver a message directly to Co-op members/customers, what would it be?
Eat more mushrooms! They are good for you and taste great. Doesn’t matter if you buy them from us, go out and pick some and learn about your local ecology!

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