Selling home grown mushrooms – through bags small enough to sit on your kitchen countertop, filled with organic matter like grain or coffee grounds and inoculated with spores – has been Michael Crowe’s business since 2017. He enjoys hearing from happy customers, who sometimes send him updates on their progress. “It’s just so cool because it can bring together people of all ages, from all walks of life and people all over the place can grow food and have a really good time learning about it,” he says.
Then the pandemic hit and suddenly interest in the grow kits was booming beyond anything Crowe had seen before. It “just blew up”, he says. “It seemed like everybody, everybody was looking to grow mushrooms.”
Crafty hobbies – especially those related to food – have certainly had a renaissance over the last 12 months. Starved of places to go – and eat – people have taken to baking their homemade sourdough breads, regrowing their scallions, and perfecting their cookie recipes. As a homegrown project that is relatively easy to get going (all one needs to do is buy a kit, slice it open and add water to get started) mushrooms fit ideally within this trend. And not only are mushrooms good to eat, they are also visually stunning (once you get beyond the white button variety usually found at the supermarket, that is).
So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that Crowe is not the only one seeing DIY fungi fever grow over the last year. Across the pond Grocycle, a mushroom company based in Devon, UK, saw a 320% rise in grow kit sales during the last 12 months compared with the year prior. For the Maine-based company North Spore, demand for introductory mushroom growing supplies grew 400% during the pandemic.
It was the “pure sexiness” of pink oyster mushrooms that tempted London-based PhD candidate Barclay Bram to pick up a grow kit at his local market last November. Oyster mushrooms are a popular beginner’s shroom, being hardy and low-maintenance. Plus, it turns out eating the fruits of your own labor is tastier, too.
“I love cooking, and they were honestly some of the best mushrooms I’ve ever eaten,” says Bram – who weighted and seared some of his oyster mushrooms in a hot cast iron pan, then topped them with butter.
Some have opted to take the hobby further. George Clipp, from Melbourne, turned to DIY mushroom growing as a “project to get stuck in”, after he lost some work last spring. He and his wife, copywriter Catie Payne, began compiling the equipment required to partially transform their laundry room into a shroom shack, including a mini greenhouse, growing substrate from a closed restaurant, and a used child’s humidifier they found for sale online. The extra effort paid off; Clipp and Payne have been flush with mushrooms all year – estimating they grow over A$500 (almost US$390) worth of pearl, blue, tan and Queensland white oyster mushrooms every couple of months.
“Sharing them is such a nice thing, and we’ve been swapping them with people for backyard eggs or sourdough bread,” says Clipp. “They’re like an alternative currency, which is pretty cool.”
Jenn Xu has bought three different mushroom grow kits successively since last summer, and considers them an ideal pandemic diversion. “People want something new to do, we’re stuck at home, and if we can’t move, we want to see something move,” she says. “I buy them for the novelty and for observing the grow patterns because they’re so diverse and interesting – it piques this childlike wonder … If you look away for two hours and look back, it’s doubled in size.” Some of Xu’s friends also bought mushrooms kits, and keeping each other appraised of their progress has become part of the fun.