B.C. farmer takes mushroom experiment to the woods of West Kootenay

An organic mushroom farmer in Kaslo, B.C., is taking his latest mushroom experiment to a forest trail on the outskirts of town. 

Robin Mercy’s idea to cultivate Phoenix oyster mushrooms on rotting logs and stumps on the lower section of Wardner Lookout Trail has been given the green light by the Kaslo village council.

The one-year pilot project aims to test whether it’s possible to grow a large amount of edible mushrooms on waste wood — in this case Douglas fir trees cut down to address beetle damage and wildfire risk — without regular watering and other maintenance. 

Mercy, who runs an organic mushroom shop near the trail, says he will work with students from Selkirk College to inoculate the rotting wood with mushroom spawn provided by his business. 

The village says it won’t need to invest any money in the project.

Mercy says he isn’t seeking commercial gain from the experiment, but rather wants to spark a conversation about food security within the local community.

“We can turn something that’s considered very low value … and actually turn that into food,” Mercy told Sarah Penton, the host of CBC’s Radio West

“That’s something that a lot of people wouldn’t have any idea [of] really getting creative with their local food supply.”

Mercy says mushrooms grown from waste wood are different from those normally found in supermarkets.

“[Mushrooms sold in supermarkets are] often farmed or produced on some very nitrogen-rich substrate like cow manure,” he said.

Mercy mentioned in his letter to council that Phoenix oyster mushrooms have no poisonous look-alikes and will grow on logs and stumps only, meaning they won’t colonize and damage living trees.

Robin Mercy says mushrooms grown on outdoor waste wood are different from the manure-cultivated mushrooms sold in supermarkets. (Submitted by Robin Mercy)

Kaslo’s chief administrative officer Ian Dunlop says the village is working with Mercy to design signs that will be placed along the trail to inform hikers of the mushroom project.

“We just want to make sure people — first and foremost — that they don’t start eating mushrooms [at the project sites],” Dunlop said. “That means they shouldn’t be eating or picking the mushrooms because it’s not monitored.”

Mercy says he will harvest the mushrooms in the fall, and cook them to share with the local community.

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