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How an Indoor Mushroom Company is Cultivating a Better Food System – Food Tank

Four Star Mushroom (FSM), a Chicago-based mushroom company, uses controlled environmental agriculture to decentralize the urban food system. After his initial three-year run, the company is undergoing major expansion and hopes the new facility will help connect more people to nutrient-rich, locally grown mushrooms.

Joe Weber launched FSM in 2019 to address the growing environmental concerns associated with traditional farming. Weber envisions a future food system that integrates technology and production methods to prevent further ecosystem collapse. In addition to their environmental benefits, mushrooms boast a wide range of culinary uses. FSM is now responsible for supplying gourmet mushrooms to more than half of Chicago’s Michelin-starred restaurants, including his famous Alinea.

“The real purpose of this facility is to bring people in and teach them about mushrooms, the controlled environment agriculture (CEA) process, and how the local food system works for them,” said Weber of Food. told Tank.

CEA allows growers to stack mushroom blocks vertically, thus improving space efficiency. The upgraded high-yield facility, still under development, covers 3,048-4,572 square meters and is capable of producing 900-4,500 kilograms of high-quality mushrooms per week. The current facility is just 550 square meters.

“People are becoming more aware of the role fungi can play in our society in solving problems surrounding climate change, sustainability, toxic waste accumulation, mental health, agriculture, and more. Masu,” he tells Food Tank, a specialty of mushroom cultivation.

Analysis published in food and nutrition research found that fungi are important sources of micronutrients and bioactive compounds. Incorporating mushrooms into your eating pattern can address nutritional deficiencies such as potassium, vitamin D and choline deficiencies without affecting overall calories, sodium, or fat.

Weber says he saw a growing consumer appreciation for mushrooms after the 2019 release of the documentary Fantastic Fungi. Chung also observed a growing community of amateur mycologists and growers as public interest grew. “As agriculture continues its trend towards decentralization, more people are growing within their homes and communities,” Chung adds.

According to Weber and Chung, CEA for mushroom cultivation is relatively new. But with CEA, growers can grow mushrooms to their customers’ exact specifications.

FSM’s new facility has 17 individual growing chambers that can be precisely controlled. Controlling growth conditions such as oxygen, temperature, humidity and light produces a wide variety of observable traits. Modifications in size and structure allow growers to influence the flavor profile of mushrooms. We are excited to create a roster of breeds for

Indoor cultivation offers consistent production throughout the year, but initial initial costs can be a significant barrier to entry.

Chong also says One of the most important aspects of mushroom cultivation is pollution control. Invisible enemies such as airborne spores and bacteria can cause mycelium competition, so it’s important to design your farm in a way that limits contamination. “

According to a report on CEA by the James Hutton Institute, CEA shows the potential for a more accessible and sustainable food supply. In urban environments, CEA can reduce food miles and fossil fuel emissions associated with food transportation. Minimizing the distance between production and consumption areas results in fresher, more nutritious produce, prevents spoilage and ultimately prevents food waste. As a result, CEA’s operations will be less dependent on pesticides and irrigation water.

However, CEA requires more energy than conventional agriculture. This is an important counter-argument to CEA’s positive environmental potential. Energy usage varies by technology, but the heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC) and lighting systems essential to mushroom cultivation are energy intensive. Proponents of CEA believe there is scope to integrate renewable energy sources to offset this dependence.

One of the most potentially sustainable aspects of mushroom cultivation is its waste management. Mushroom cultivation not only recycles agricultural waste, but its by-products are a valuable resource.

Agricultural and industrial waste can be used as a substrate, which is the material on which the mushroom mycelium grows. Currently, FSM upcycles soybean husks and red oak sawdust as substrates, but hopes to include more waste streams in the future. Weber tells his Food Tank:

Weber’s intention is to make the model of FSM completely circular. As he tells his Food Tank: When added to the soil, the spent substrate modifies it and sequesters the carbon. Mycelium also has the power to restore ecosystems by bioremediating sites from heavy metals and hydrocarbons. Mushroom waste also has important biofuel applications.

Weber predicts that Chicago could even become a hub for a thriving CEA industry. Chicago’s proximity to Lake Michigan provides a steady supply of fresh water, which is important for mushroom farming (because mushrooms are 80% water) and his CEA in general. As he explains in his Food Tank: He continued, “I think it will be a game changer. People will understand what is possible with controlled environmental agriculture.”

The new space also features a full commercial kitchen for R&D, private and public event opportunities. FSM hopes to be completely plastic-free in the next three years by replacing polypropylene bags with biodegradable bags. In the long term, FSM hopes to expand nationally in both foodservice and retail.

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Photo credit: Thanh Soledas, Unsplash

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