Far West Fungi is owned and operated by the Garrone Family in Moss Landing, California. They’re known for their biannual open tours of their mushroom farm, which I had to opportunity to attend on October 26th. There, I met up with BARM members, Sally, Josh, and Heather. The Garrones collaborate with Ken Linchfield to put on the tour; Ken has been an active member of MSSF for well over a decade and he taught mushroom cultivation at Merritt College for many years as well.

I had heard a lot about this tour. It’s famous (within specific circles) because of the spent — i.e., previously fruited — blocks of myceliated wood chips that participants can take home. These blocks usually will produce at least second or third flush of mushrooms. It’s not worth it to FWF to store them for additional fruiting so they heap them in a gigantic mountain of myceliated wood blocks at the edge of their property. At the end of the tour, everyone crowds around and loads up the back of their pick-up trucks with blocks, or throws as many as they can into garbage bags that they throw in their back seats, before heading back to wherever they came from. It’s quite a sight. The blocks are about a foot long, half a foot wide and thick, and are the consistency of thick styrofoam, eaten all the way through with white mycelium, dry to the touch.

The tour was divided into three different tours according to knowledge level: “beginner,” “intermediate,” and “advanced.” I decided to go on the “intermediate” tour, led by Ken.

We begin at the giant mounds of fermenting wood. Each mound is turned (like compost) by a bulldozer after a week. Sally and I go to smell each pile. We find that the smell disappears gradually and is replaced by another one that’s difficult to describe. It’s not a bad odor.

We can’t go into “the sterile room” (for obvious reasons). This is where the FWF employees transfer spores and breed “spawn,” substrate on which the spores germinate. We continue on to the rooms where bags of fermented wood chips that have been inoculated with this spawn that was started from spores under sterile conditions. These are stored in plastic bags with air filters on them. The plastic bags are the biggest waste stream in mushroom production. I’ve heard a number of mushroom cultivators mention this with a mix of contrition and resignation.

From there, we go into the fruiting rooms. These are where the visual delights begin. The mushrooms, rising out of the bags of myceliated wood, are beautiful. Besides shiitake, oysters, nameko, and king trumpet, there’s one mushroom I’ve never heard of: Hericium erinaceus a.k.a. Lion’s Mane. (I didn’t take a picture but click the link to check out what it looks like.) People seem pretty excited about it. Ken’s has coined his own name for: “crabalone,” since it has the texture and taste of crab and abalone. Alas, he notes, the name has not yet caught on…

I would never think to eat this stuff if I found it in the wild.