Mushroom company flourishes at Ferry Building

December 30, 2010 7:57:44 PM PST
San Francisco's Ferry Building has a fungi problem and that's a good thing. Shoppers can't get enough of them thanks to a local family that has seen their business mushroom quite literally.

Outside the Ferry Building market on San Francisco's waterfront, farmers bring their sun-kissed crops to sell. Inside the building, there is a crop that almost looks other worldly and prefers to grow in the dark. It comes with names like maitake, tree oyster, chanterelles, and black trumpet.

Far West Fungi opened its doors in the Ferry Building six years ago and they only sell mushrooms.

"And since then, it's been just taking off," says Ian Garrone, from Far West Fungi.

Ian is part of this family run business. He runs the shop inside the Ferry Building.

"Everything that we bring in from the store comes directly from the farm. There's no middleman. It comes in daily so it's really fresh and if you take a look at our prices, they are about as low as they are going to go," says Ian.

The Garrone family farm in Moss Landing in Monterey County. Dark, moist warehouses provide the perfect habitat for growing mushrooms.

Toby and John Garrone were working as a school teacher and police dispatcher when they learned to grow fungi.

They made ends meet selling mushrooms at a farmers market.

"We'd bring mushrooms in our Volkswagen camper and we had three different types of mushrooms," says John.

And 27 years later, they are a mushroom empire. They sell their mushrooms at their store, 18 farmers markets, and grocery stores. Currently they only grow mushrooms that grow on wood.

"We start with red oak sawdust and rice bran, and we add calcium to it," says John.

That mixture is put into plastic bags and then sterilized to kill any bacteria. The block is then seeded and put on a shelf.

"It takes between four and 13 weeks for that organism to grow through the block, then we put it in a harvest room which is like this one. We lower the temperature and increase the humidity and hopefully we get mushrooms," says John.

The Garrone's say some mushrooms contain small amounts of poison, so it's best only eat from sources you trust and cook all mushrooms before serving them.

"Mushrooms are great, because it doesn't have to be complex. A little bit of olive oil, a little salt and pepper saut?ed up on a medium heat for five to 10 minutes and you have yourself a nice little side dish," says Ian.

By the way, there are some 38,000 known varieties of mushrooms -- more than 3,000 in North America alone. So you can see why they don't get bored with mushrooms.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel


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