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Mushrooms make a business - in Sellwood

by: RITA A. LEONARD - The young Sellwood-based owners of The Portland Mushroom Co. are, from left: Will Fortini, Zac Tobias, and Ryan Bubriski.Three Sellwood men have been perfecting a mushroom-growing business in their homes over the past year, as part of an Entrepreneurial Program through Lewis & Clark College. Will Fortini, Zac Tobias, and Ryan Bubriski – all Biology majors from the nearby college – decided to try the venture, as an experiment in urban farming and recycling. They’re now selling their top-grade white oyster mushrooms at local restaurants like A Cena and Papa Haydn, as well as at the Moreland Farmers Market.

“Ryan’s Honors Thesis was written on truffle ecology, and we all became interested after reading a great reference book: ‘Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms’ by Paul Stamets,” explains Fortini. “We created a home-grown system, and decided to focus on oyster mushrooms, which are easier to grow than shiitake mushrooms, and which are in demand by high-end restaurants.

“Morels, truffles, and chanterelles cannot be cultivated, although people try,” he continues. “Our system is unique, in that we produce almost no plastic waste. Our oyster mushrooms are very pristine because they’re handled minimally, unlike those found in grocery stores, which can end up looking stringy, gray, shredded, and dry.”

The Portland Mushroom Co. raises its crop in a basement room, in plastic food-grade buckets stuffed with pasteurized straw. The substrate is inoculated weekly with professional-grade spawn (spores), and the mushrooms grow through holes drilled into the sides of the buckets. After two fruitings, the buckets are re-sterilized, and new straw is used. The used substrate is recycled, and the process begins once again.

“We only hold our fresh mushrooms one week for sales, although they can be refrigerated for a couple of weeks, or sauteed and frozen for a long time,” says Fortini. “After that, we use them on pizza, or turn them into gravy.”

The young company has successfully progressed past two levels of small grants received through Lewis & Clark's Entrepreneurial Program. “In the fall, we’ll do another presentation of our progress, competing with four other business teams for a larger grant award,” confides Fortini. “Our next step is to try growing mushrooms in a recycled, insulated shipping container, which can be fine-tuned for specific temperatures and humidity.

“We also hope to develop a way to use dried coffee grounds and spent brewers’ grain as a growth medium, continuing our plans for a sustainable business model. Our ultimate vision is to set up different environments for growing different kinds of mushroom in separate refrigerated containers. We hope to become the signature mushroom supplier for restaurants.” As a sideline, the men also produce unique mushroom jewelry! “Some of the small mushrooms, or pinheads, that don't mature, dry out and can be removed with one or more miniature mushroom caps intact,” comments Fortini. “These can be dipped into polyurethane to preserve them, then be fitted with jewelry fastenings to become earrings, necklaces, or fashion pins. They’re very delicate looking, dark brown and entirely unique.” But, with a plastic coating and the jewelry fastenings, these may or may not be good on pizza.