Mushroom Adventures in Marysville
By Melissa Mendonca
Grow Your Own
Story by Melissa Mendonca
AS THE WEATHER warms up and people plan for an active summer, the team at Mushroom Adventures in Marysville is moving into its fallow season. “Summer time for us is repair time,” says Donald Simoni, the company’s founder. “It’s when we go out and get work done. It’s a renewal time.”
Come fall, with cooler weather conducive to mushroom growth, the team goes into high production creating mushroom kits that are sent far and wide through wholesale and internet retail. Many will end up under Christmas trees as unique gifts for foodies and hard-to-find-for friends.
“What the kits really offer is an opportunity to learn the process of growing mushrooms in a home environment that’s really not available, as a whole, elsewhere,” explains Simoni. “I personally get a lot of satisfaction just knowing I did it. It’s educational, teaches you how to grow them, to some extent.”
Just as North State home gardeners are now starting to calculate the true cost of growing their own tomatoes, Simoni laughs as he mentions, “You’re not going to save money by buying a mushroom kit.” But as the tomato growers also know, nothing beats the satisfaction of biting into something you’ve grown yourself.
With Mushroom Adventures kits, the fun isn’t fleeting. “All of our kits grow mushrooms over an extended amount of time. You get a few months,” he adds. “The kits will produce a fixed amount of mushrooms depending on how much growing medium is in the box.”
The need to develop their own growing medium in the form of organic compost encouraged the Bay Area-based company to move to Marysville in 2005, where land was affordable and a 6,000-square-foot warehouse was waiting for them to set up shop. “We’re out in the middle of an orchard,” says Simoni. “Mushroom farms on the edge of urban areas usually get shut down over time, either because of encroachment or odors.” The Marysville location is zoned exclusively agriculture. “So far they’ve left us alone. We’re not bothering anybody and we’re all happy out here.”
The company keeps ties to the Bay Area, however, as its fresh mushroom business has a strong customer base at farmers markets in San Francisco on Clement Street and at Stonestown Shopping Center. They also sell weekly in Chico and Auburn. The company diversified to sell fresh product when it felt the pressure of competition from Amazon. “It seemed sort of odd to be selling all of these mushroom kits but not be in the mushroom business,” he says.
Also in the way of diversification, Simoni notes, “There’s a curiousness in medicinal mushrooms and also exotic mushrooms. We’re having to expand our growing operation and even our mushroom kit operation to fill that niche.” He notes that interest in lion’s mane, maitake, oyster and shiitake mushrooms is growing.
Simoni traces his fascination with mushroom adventures to his teenage summers spent hunting at a Gridley duck club with family. “When I was a kid, 16 or 17, my uncle used to take me hunting,” he says. “We’d be walking through the forest and we’d stop and pick mushrooms. That kind of excited me about picking mushrooms from the wild.”
As an adult he found himself with a renewed interest in mushrooms during the off season of his San Francisco-based paint contracting business, which runs from April to October. He joined the Mycological Society of San Francisco and started experimenting in his basement. “I wanted to grow some mushrooms that me and my uncle used to pick when we went hunting,” he says.
In 1996, five years into his hobby, he officially opened Mushroom Adventures, working on it during the fall and winter and painting in spring and summer. “I did both for about four or five years,” he says. Eventually, he adds, “I phased out the paint contracting business for full-time mushroom growing kits.”
“Back in the ’90s there was a big wild mushroom craze going on,” he says of the early days of his endeavors. “The public was introduced to wild mushrooms. People had this curiosity. But you were too frightened to go out to pick them. The mushroom kits would fill that niche. In 1995, portobello mushrooms hit the marketplace. People were curious about them and heard that they were tasty. And here you could buy a kit to grow them yourselves.”
Simoni truly takes pleasure in keeping up with the trends in mushrooms and helping the public find access to them. It’s been one adventure after the other and he’s enjoying the ride. •
www.mushroomadventures.com • (530) 741-2437