Today we’re talking to John Findlay, who raises mushrooms on his farm in Ontario, Canada. He raises them locally to sell to farmer’s markets and chefs. He’s had a lot of success, and in this episode, he’s going to share what his journey has been like. From expenses to techniques, and even a discussion on what it would be like as a vegetable farmer to add mushrooms onto their operation, this far-ranging conversation will give you a full introduction to what it might look like to start growing mushrooms on your farm in 2020.
When you were starting, what were some of the resources you learned from? (7:20)
I connected with Brian Callow of What the Fungus and went to his place in B.C., and he broke it down for me. He explained is 12×20 greenhouse would be $7k to put up and, if done right could gross $30k in the first year. He has YouTube videos that explain a lot of what he does.
With that knowledge, how did you get started? (9:00)
My big thing was, if I’m going to do it, then I need to do it right. I set up an education packet for myself. Paul Stamets had a four-day course in B.C., and Brian Callow had a one-week one-on-one mentorship program. I didn’t want to show up at either of their places, not knowing nothing about nothing, and through YouTube ads, I found a link to an online course ‘Growth Cycle’ and went through the course after work for six months.
When you were looking into growing mushrooms as a business, was the goal to make enough to earn a living? How did the transition into mushroom farming play out from your full-time job? (12:35)
That was the end goal after hearing the numbers from Brian. When I first started fruiting mushrooms, I went crazy inoculating a massive amount of bags, mostly because I heard when you get started, there is a significant potential for contamination. I didn’t have that at all, and by my 3-4th week, I was harvesting 75lbs. I barely had enough time to harvest them, let alone sell them.
Preparing myself for it was a huge task. I was lucky it was a delivery job so I could break up the day to harvest and care for my mushrooms throughout the day. It was 16 hour days for a year or so. I knew at the end of the day that I’d be able to leave the delivery job, I just wanted to make sure I had my expenses covered. Eventually, I was tired of that and realized I could make the transition. I was lucky that I bought a cheap house and the rest of my money could be invested in the mushroom business.
If mushrooms are your sole income on the farm, how many pounds should you be producing a week? (18:20)
I’m finding I can sell mushrooms on average for $20/lb at the market and $12/lb to chefs and down to $10/lb at grocery stores (Canadian dollars). I found that for my business and lifestyle, I needed $800/wk, so that averages to 50lbs a week of mushrooms. I can grow that in a 20×20 foot structure. The material cost per lb is about $2, and the labor is quick, roughly 15 mins, so perhaps $5 if you count labor.
How did retail sales go initially? What did you do to stand out? (21:10)
Everyone was excited about them because I had a quality of mushroom. Pricing was important. If I put $20/lb on mushrooms, my stand would likely be full at the end of the day. So I put out pint and quart containers and mark them as $5 and $10.
Variety also attracted customers. My first year, I grew eight types, but most of them were oysters, so a rainbow of oysters. Now I’m growing up to 30 varieties. I’ll start with one petri dish, go up to 2-grain jars, intro four spawn bags, and that will turn into 16 ten pound fruit bags. I can only fit 1000 bags in my small space, between my lab and my incubation space, so I grow only about ten varieties at a time. All the varieties grow together well. A lot of people like when I mix the mushrooms in the containers.
What are the main mushrooms you’d want to grow for the market? (26:00)
My oyster mushrooms are popular, and people go after them. Some people are knowledgable who go after the shitake, the lions-mane, even one chef who always wants chestnut mushrooms.
I was surprised how popular the oyster mushrooms are. I’ll mix two colors in a pint and up to 4 in a quart. I don’t mix the varieties themselves, however.
What was it like breaking into selling to chefs? (28:25)
I put a post up on social media and tagged five restaurants that said they were interested in local produce. I got a response back from 2 of them. One stopped talking to me when I mentioned my price, and the other I got on board. The next chef I met was buying a full basket of mushrooms at the health-food store, I gave him my business card, and I even had some samples in the truck which turned him into a customer.
What are the prices chefs are getting their mushrooms from food distributors, and what is it about your mushrooms that make them stand out from them? (32:00)
From what I hear, the food distributors sell their mushrooms at $8/lb. Oyster mushrooms are good for about 4-7 days at best. I like to sell my product the same day it’s picked, or one day later at the latest. Harvesting them gently is important, so they don’t fray or crack, which accelerates decomposition. Harvesting at peak time is also important.
What are your thoughts on a veg farm starting with mushrooms as an add on? (34:30)
It depends on how big your operation is; it is another serious product to take on. If you have the start-up capital, you can invest in the operation, but the most critical aspect is if you have a market you can sell to. If there was someone else selling mushrooms at my farmers market, I’d have to likely bring my prices down to compete with them, which would mean I’d have to increase my production. I don’t know if I’d be able to afford to do that if it were the case.
Is growing mushrooms more technical than growing vegetables? (36:20)
What you can do if you are just starting as a vegetable farmer to try out mushrooms is to buy the bags of mushrooms that are ready to fruit. They wouldn’t need a lab or incubation space, just a fruiting room. The thing is, the bags cost more. When I started, I spent $25k before I grew my first mushroom. A grow bag is roughly $20, and you can produce about 2lbs per bag.
What does the day to day management of your 1k+ fruiting bags entail? (39:30)
I’m often filling up bags to cook a batch. I can fit 300lbs of the substrate in my 85gallon barrel at a time, and that will cook for 20hrs. It has to cool down for two days. Then I can innoculate it. Usually, spawn bags I can fill up 25 to 10lb bags depending on the variety I’m growing. So 100-200 bags a week are going through my room.
Depending on the strain and the size of the bag will condition how long it would fruit. I was always trying to line up when certain varieties will fruit, so it was aligned with the market. Some varieties come up somewhat randomly across time. You get an initial flush with as much as 2lbs and the second flush 1lb. It’s not worth keeping it for a third flush. I have to track the bags timing carefully.
The window for perfect picking time is within a half-day window. I spend about an hour each day harvesting, but I’m continually checking them for harvestability. If you leave them too long, they will spore, and the room will be coated in millions of spores. I’m always doing extra bags to make up for what doesn’t come up on time.
Where did that first $25k go when you got started? (46:40)
About a third was education. The rest of it was spent on tools and the grow room. Everyone who is growing mushrooms is doing it a little differently. The best thing for you to do is find people who are doing it the way you can do it. For someone in veg who is looking to just add on a fruiting room, they can get a 10X15 space, some fridges, and a counter space to work on.
What’s the best way to store a mushroom? (49:00)
Trim the mushrooms, so there is no more substrate on them. I have hard mesh containers and place wax paper on the bottom of them. I set the mushrooms inside and then put a damp towel firmly over the top so that it doesn’t touch and ruin the mushrooms.
While more technical and costly to invest in upfront than veg, mushrooms can offer growers a potentially open market if there isn’t another producer in your region. If you want to learn more from John, you can find him on the web on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube at Findlay’s Fungus. If you are interested in hearing more about the topic of growing mushrooms on the podcast, you can reach out to me @DiegoFooter on Instagram and let me know your thoughts.
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Diego: [00:00:00] Today, we're talking about small-scale farming and growing a product that you typically wouldn't hear about on this show. Stay tuned to find out what that product is coming up. Welcome to farm small farm smart. I'm your host Diego, D I E G O today's episode of farm. Small farm smart is brought to you by paper pot, co your source for all things, farm efficiency from paper pot, transplanting equipment.
That's going to help you get crops into the field. Very fast to Cedars, like the Jang seeders, which can help you effectively and efficiently. Put seed into the ground. We have a lot of tools to offer. We want you to be able to get in the field, do the work there, and then get back off the field so you can do other things in life.
We like to call it plant fast, live more. If you want to learn more about everything that we have to offer, check us out at paper, pot.co and today's episode, I'm talking to John finely. John's a farmer, but he's a different type of farmer than any other farmer who I've talked to on this show in the past.
The reason being is John's a mushroom farmer or mushroom grower. John is a farm in Ontario, Canada. He raises oyster mushrooms and other types of mushrooms locally to sell at the farmer's markets to sell to chefs. He's had a lot of success doing it. And today he's going to share some of his story. What starting up a small scale mushroom grow operation is really like from, can you make a living doing this?
To what are some of the costs involved to what it might look like for a vegetable grower who wants to add mushrooms into their product line? So whether you're a vegetable grower or somebody who just wants to get into farming, I think you'll get a lot out of this one. Let's jump into it with John finely of finalized fungus.
So John, we were just talking off the air and. You've been listening to the podcast for a long time. And one of the things that you listened to was the urban farmer series I did with Curtis and you considered going down that road and you started actually buying equipment buying seeds. You were saying, what were your thoughts at the time around farming and vegetable farming?
John Findlay: [00:02:32] Actually I, because my main thing was I wanted to be part of the local farmer's market that had just started up and, Because I've seen the whole Curtis series and in laying it out, like step-by-step was just amazing. And, I actually went out at the time, there was a local farmer, the young guy, he was actually looking for a helper.
So I was able to go out there every Sunday and just help them out for the one day kind of thing, just to get a taste of it. And, I w I was pretty excited about it. It just the way you guys had it laid out in it, it just seemed like all the bases were covered and it was pretty comfortable to make that, make the purchases and get right into it. And, I was pretty comfortable doing that.
Diego: [00:03:12] What was the attraction to vegetables? Was it. You'd listen to it. So it seemed like the obvious option to go into. Was it a low hanging fruit? I do a lot of shows around farming. Some people want to do livestock. Some people want to get into an orchard type model. We'll get into what you actually do here in a little bit. Why was it vegetables?
John Findlay: [00:03:34] I actually switch to, I w I was bouncing back and forth. I was trying out the vegan diet, and then I was trying just the grass fed diet, because homesteading seemed to fit in the picture of everything. So when I was just doing this vegan diet, I was paying a lot of money for these organic vegetables.
And I was thinking to myself, man, seeds are cheap. I got a little bit of property. Even if I don't have property, I'm looking at all these big open Southern facing yards around me that, these older folks on the house and I'm thinking, Curtis had a really good idea there. Maybe I should run with it.
Diego: [00:04:05] Knowing that, it's one thing to have an idea. It's an second step to enact the idea, but it has to be the right fit. It has to be the right fit for you, the property you're on. And ultimately the market. When you started getting into vegetable farming, how did you find that it would be as a potential business going forward?
John Findlay: [00:04:28] As a potential business for Vedge for me going forward. it wouldn't have been probably super ideal just because, there was two guys around my age, in their early thirties that had just started a vege farm that went down in the Southern Ontario, got some experience came back up. They were getting grants for greenhouses and, At the point, like at the time I didn't have money for funding for, I wasn't set up with experience to be able to do something that big.
So for me, it wasn't like a hundred percent let's jump on this. It was like, I really want to be in this local scene, but I feel like the vege scene was a bit crowded and I wasn't really sure where to turn.
Diego: [00:05:08] And so at that point, what do you do? Cause I think this is a position. A lot of people find themselves in, they. No, they want to do something in the space. They start to explore opportunities. They find maybe those opportunities aren't as promising for whatever reason as they initially thought, how did you move forward from that point? Because the journey didn't stop there.
John Findlay: [00:05:32] The big thing was going to the market at the beginning of the market, seeing what was there and then going to the market at the end of the market and seeing what was there.
And I noticed. That and all the vegetables share there might've been a low amount of this or sold out this or that. But for the most part, there were, there was one item for sure that one vendor at the market did have, that was always sold out halfway through the market. And that kind of led me to, maybe I should start looking into it.
Diego: [00:06:01] And that item was ultimately mushrooms. And it's something that has never been a topic on this show before. And it's something that I wanted to highlight as another potential business for people to get into and maybe even look at it as a side business, which we can circle back to later when the idea of mushrooms came up and growing mushrooms, how similar or different. Did you think that would be compared to growing vegetable?
John Findlay: [00:06:31] I have never even thought of growing my firms. Like I started eating mushrooms a few years ago just because, I was starting a new diet and I wanted to eat a variety of foods. So I brought in some mushrooms as dice snap, cremini mushrooms, raw and eating them, thinking I was doing something good later on find out that's probably not the best idea, but, just, I had no idea how to go about growing mushrooms or that people actually grew mushrooms on a small scale. I just figured it was huge factories or people that were highly skilled or maybe had a lot of money. But, that wasn't the case.
Diego: [00:07:06] When you were starting at that stage, not knowing a lot about it. What were some of the better resources that really helped? Get your journey started because this is something right now is we're talking in 2019.
It's a business for you. And you're doing it full time this year. But every farmer that I talked to on the show, a lot of times all the time, they're not starting at the point when I'm talking to them, they started back long ago. So not knowing how to grow mushrooms yet, seeing an opportunity there. What was the steps into moving forward up the knowledge curve and really exploring it as a business.
John Findlay: [00:07:42] For me it was Brian Calla with what the fungus, when you and Curtis stone had went to his place in BC and showed and broken down the numbers and he was showing, you can start up with this screen now, $7,000. You can end up making 30,000 if it's all done right. I was just blown away. Like I could have a tent garage in my yard who couldn't right.
Diego: [00:08:04] And his one thing I love about Brian system and you can, everybody can check out his videos on YouTube. He does a lot of great videos and he's a super nice guy is it's very small, like a lot of small farms. His infrastructure is very modular. You're not going to need to put up a huge building, huge warehouse to make this happen. I forget the exact size, but there's something like what? 10 by 20?
John Findlay: [00:08:26] Yeah. 12 by 2012 by 20.
Diego: [00:08:28] Okay. Consulting with him, talking to him, putting a plan in place. How do you find that? Okay, maybe I can do this. I can start a business out of this. You start getting the knowledge, you start seeing what he's doing. How does that translate back to Ontario where you're located?
John Findlay: [00:08:50] My big thing was if I was going to do it, I was going to do it right. And I thought I'd set up an education package for myself. So what I ended up doing was, I found, Paul Staymates was actually having a four-day course in BC. And I found out about the, what the fungus had a 30 day mentorship program, but I couldn't take that long off work. So just as I was watching his videos, he switched to a one week. A one-on-one mentorship program.
And I, if I could line these two trips together, flower to BC, make it one trip, see Paula statements get, inoculated with his knowledge for four days, the quarter Brian's farm, get the one-on-one retraining and, then I'd be set. But the thing was like, I didn't really want to show up at either their places not knowing nothing about nothing.
I had watched a lot of YouTube videos, but, just at the time, I think my cell phone might have been listening to me when it shouldn't have been. And it started posting ads for, an online mushroom growing course, so sure enough, I'm clicking on their growth cycle link. And next thing I signed up for an online course and so I spent six months after work going through the course and learning everything that, all the basics anyway. So when I did go to. Meet the man and do some hands on training that I'd be well adjusted.
Diego: [00:10:07] When you really started doing that early education, how did what you were learning about mushroom farming compare to maybe some sort of ideas that you had going in or compared to what you knew about vegetable farming going in?
John Findlay: [00:10:25] Comparing it to vegetable farming. It's a completely different world, but at the same time, it's a similar process. It's almost like you're taking a seed. You're transplanting the seed multiple times and you're just, making sure that everything's done in a super sterile environment. And, yeah.
You need the indoor space and temperature control. You need a lot of control compared to two beds where you can just be outside in the elements type deal.
Diego: [00:10:52] Moving beyond that. once you eventually harvest that's where all the similarities come into play. So anything that your dueling, a vegetable farmer could learn from on the sales side, in anything, a vegetable farmers doing in terms of sales, at least in terms of marketing, dealing with customers, those types of things. Those are just universalities that are going to translate across any business.
John Findlay: [00:11:12] PR pretty much every podcast that you've done with it doesn't matter if it's grass fed life. If it's, you're talking about farming, cattle, like marketing is marketing and sales or sales, we're all bringing our goods to the farmer's market. So there's a different process to get our goods, but at the end of the day, we all want to maximize our profits and be efficient as we can in network.
Diego: [00:11:34] He didn't come out of a farming background and profits, which. You need to maximize to ultimately make a living doing this is very important because you started this having a full-time job last year in 2018, you had a full-time job while you ran the farm.
And this year is your full first year. Full-time on the farm. When you started looking at. Mushrooms is a business. Did you see an opportunity? Not just to sell them, but to sell enough, to make a potential living doing it?
John Findlay: [00:12:07] I think that was the end goal, just because like I'm hearing the numbers coming from Brian and understanding that, I would only need a fraction of his numbers because we're, I'm an Ontario everything's relatively cheap to where, in comparison to where he is.
So I would only need to sell a fraction of what he was selling. So I was thinking on a smaller scale and because I have a longer winters, a shorter warm season type deal. unless I'm doing it indoors and pumping lots of money and the heating, my seasonal probably even be shorter than his.
Diego: [00:12:40] And you're in a position to that a lot of people are in who want to get into farming again, regardless of type of farming of moving from full-time job into self-employment running your own farm-based business, knowing that you had Brian's numbers, knowing that, okay, I could just make a fraction of those and make it work. How did you approach the idea or think about the idea ahead of moving from working for someone else to working for yourself?
What were some of the things that were going through your mind to start off?
John Findlay: [00:13:16] Like when I first started fruiting mushrooms, I guess during the winter, my first winter, I just went crazy with inoculating, a mass amount of bags. And, just because I heard that there's, when you start out, there's lots of contamination.
Which I actually didn't end up facing very much of at all. So I ended up having a lot more than I thought. So went from 15 pounds, my first week, 35 pounds, my second week, 75 pounds, my, my third and fourth week. And when I was growing 75 pounds, I barely had time to harvest them. Nevermind, go out and find a place to sell them. So I felt as though, as I was almost having a throw away a higher value of mushrooms and I was making, having to spend the whole day delivering doing this.
Diego: [00:14:00] one of the things I think that could be a potential challenge is I got to move all that product and that product that I'm moving has to support the life that I want to live. As a entrepreneur or at that time, somebody who wanted to be a full-time entrepreneur, what type of adjustments did you have to make in life to really make it? So this transition into farming would be easier. people who come from high paying corporate jobs might approach starting, going into farming very differently.
for many reasons than somebody who is single and 20 years old and just working somewhere else is their first job. There's all these life factors. You have to balance out cost of living, how much you spend each month on different things. If you have a family, all those types of considerations are very real and they stop a lot of people from starting a business for you, knowing that.
You're starting to harvest this mushrooms. You're ultimately going to sell them. there's a business model there. How is life looking at that time to say, all right, I gotta do this to prepare myself for this type of lifestyle. If I'm ultimately gonna go solo.
John Findlay: [00:15:18] Yeah, preparing myself for it was a huge task. just because keep keeping the full-time job. Like I was lucky it was a delivery job, so I was able to just go there first thing in the morning, load up my truck, parked to the side and go out, harvest my mushrooms, come back into town, get my truck, do my deliveries, go back out of town and put in the work and sometimes go with a third time at night.
So pretty much, 16 hour days for maybe a year or so, but I knew at the end of the day that, eventually I would be able to get rid of this delivery job. I just want to make sure like the bulk of all my costs was pretty much covered. And I knew that, it wasn't the end of the world.
I'm still young enough, 35 this year, but I'm still young enough that I can run around and make money. I need to if I needed to, but, Yeah. W when I started, no, I figured out it would take a certain amount of time. I didn't have a definite I'm going to quit this day or anything like that, but it caught up to me actually.
And I just came back, halfway through my shift one day and I had maybe a hundred stops left on my truck and I just went in and I said, Hey, I can't do this no more. I'm just going to do mushrooms. Full-time I'm sorry. And so that kind of. I don't know, man, maybe it was that the extra straw on my back that I was just, it was too much for me at the time. And I was, I just knew that I could make a goal of mine.
Diego: [00:16:42] It's like something within, you just knew this was time to make the flip. And given that was the mushroom business at a point that could support that.
John Findlay: [00:16:53] Oh yeah. Yeah, definitely. I was, pretty much doubling the delivery job money on the side. And that was able to pay off, pretty much the bulk of the costs. Now it's just, yeah, I'm a bit lucky, I guess I ended up, buying, a really cheap host, so I don't have a mortgage kind of deal. I have that benefit and then I can just spend the money on the business and anything else that I need to keep the business going.
Diego: [00:17:17] So let's get into some of the numbers around a mushroom business. If somebody is looking to. Start a small scale mushroom business, given your experience with what you're doing, knowing what you learn from somebody like Brian, and maybe even other producers that are out there. How many people, pounds of mushrooms and let's aggregate all types for now under one, if you think you really need to be producing a week, if mushrooms are your sole focus.
Obviously, it's going to vary if you're in New York city versus if you're in the middle of nowhere, but in your experience, where do you think you're at in terms of you need to be at this level of production to make this happen?
John Findlay: [00:18:00] Yeah. so I'm finding, I averaged out all my prices. I'm able to sell mushrooms for $20 a pound at the market, $12 pound at the chefs. And then if I have to go to grocery stores, I'll come down at $10 a pound. Which is not too bad for Canadian prices. And, so the way I look at it, as it depends how much I need for the week and I figure $800 a week is fair for what I need for my business and for my home life. And, so that averages out to around 50 pounds a week.
Diego: [00:18:30] Okay. So 50 pounds a week of production. How much footprint of space roughly is it going to take to generate 50 pounds of mushrooms a week?
John Findlay: [00:18:40] So for space-wise I, I'd go with, let's say a 20 by 20 structure, maybe 400 square feet.
Diego: [00:18:48] Okay. So 400 square feet, not humongous. and I think that's something that a lot of people could put even in almost a suburban type lot in many situations, 20 by 20 is not massive to make happen.
When you look at mushrooms that are out there selling them $20 a pound at the farmer's market, what's a rough estimate for if I'm selling them at 20 at the farmer's market. Whereabouts is your cost in that?
John Findlay: [00:19:16] like the materials itself is about $2 and then, the process, because I'm doing them on batches makes me, it takes maybe a five minutes here, five minutes there, and it's just putting it in the fruit room.
Diego: [00:19:26] So pretty low under, let's say under five bucks, by the time you throw in labor and all that type of stuff. So pretty lucrative business, but again, you lucrative businesses can be a blessing and a curse because they could be markets that are already occupied. They could be. Things that you can't produce or it's too hard.
You can't sell enough to matter when it came to selling into your local market. You mentioned that one vendor was sold out all the time, halfway through the market. He was selling mushrooms.
John Findlay: [00:19:58] not completely like he was selling some mushrooms, but it's more of a side thing on his vege stands.
Diego: [00:20:03] Okay. So it an add on for him. So when you came in and you started selling mushrooms, how did the initial. Wave of retail sales. So not chefs, not to grocery stores, but to the general public. How did that go?
John Findlay: [00:20:15] I, everyone was really excited about it because, I don't know, I guess I could say I got a higher quality of mushroom. Maybe I just spent more time in research, looking into, how to, when to harvest a mushroom is probably most important.
Diego: [00:20:28] So you were going for like the premium product type niche?
John Findlay: [00:20:33] Yeah. I w I won't bring a, unless it's a premium product. I don't let it set my sit in my fridge for more than two days, type two
Diego: [00:20:42] When you first started selling them. What's the thought behind it for the public around mushrooms and pricing. I don't consume that many mushrooms. I just, I don't know these numbers at all. $20 a pound. What's the Joe public reaction to $20 a pound for
John Findlay: [00:21:01] mushrooms. to be honest, the, I go, if I put $20 a pound on my stand, it would probably be full at the end of the day. what I do is I'll, put, small containers, a little square containers and then bigger rectangle containers. So I put $5 amounts in one and $10 amounts in another and market it as that.
Diego: [00:21:19] Okay. So units versus a weight measurements.
John Findlay: [00:21:23] Yeah.
Diego: [00:21:24] Yeah, really smart. And for you when you're building this up, you've listened to the urban farmer episodes. One thing that Curtis talks about Ben Hartman talks a lot about this too, is you start with a finite amount of crops and I'm sure mushrooms are very similar, but like anything you can, there's so many choices. I want to grow this and all this, and just within oyster mushrooms, there's pink, oyster mushrooms, and blue oyster mushrooms and all this.
How many different types of mushrooms were you growing at day one going into this? Were you looking to provide some variety at the market? So customers had some choices and I think mushrooms are visually appealing. At least that's my take on it. So having different types would give you some visual pop at the market, but yet having more types.
Maybe, but maybe not is more complex.
John Findlay: [00:22:19] It's not really flex. It's just a, an extra process. I do have up to around 30, varieties in culture, in my library right now. But, like last year I was only growing, eight varieties, but mostly oysters. So mostly just a rainbow of oysters and then a few others.
Diego: [00:22:38] So say you're growing 30 varieties. And if we use a microgreen analogy, most people in most microgreen crops, you could put 30 varieties in the same environment and they'd all grow relatively well. Like they're not going to need extremely unique sets of conditions to grow in. Is that the same with mushrooms?
At least the type that you're growing. 30 varieties, you have a 20 by 20 square foot area. Can that. Area as a whole, give you the ability to raise many different types.
John Findlay: [00:23:12] I wouldn't go as crazy to say that my setup, I'd be hard pressed to try and fit 30 different types in there because everything I'm like, I'll start with one Patriot and go to two grand jars into, forest bond bags and that'll turn into 16 fruit bags or maybe 32 of their five pounders.
So I can only fit maybe a thousand bags in my two small space between my laboratory and my incubation space. So I keep it probably between less than 10 varieties to grow at a time.
Diego: [00:23:44] And then condition wise, though, are they all they'll require about the same humidity, temperature, those types of things, could you have these. If you had the space, could you have all these varieties coexisting within the same box and all do?
John Findlay: [00:24:03] Yeah. Yeah. Everything grows together very well.
Diego: [00:24:06] And one thing I was saying there in, do you find that variety helps if you're selling mushrooms?
John Findlay: [00:24:13] Oh, yeah, for sure. If Mo mostly what I'll do, if I can as have the color contrast and try to mix that in each container that I have some containers I'll put one color or the other. But for the most part, I'll try to have a lot of people like that, the mixture/
Diego: [00:24:29] and when you're selling these. Maybe people are like me. they're not super familiar with a lot of types of mushrooms. They know white caps or button mushrooms, whatever they're called, the ones that they, you always see it, the average grocery store they're sliced up.
They're on pizzas, that type of thing. What. Are the mushrooms that if you're going to do this, like you definitely want to have at your stand because they're going to be recognizable. People are going to be asking for them and they're easy to grow.
John Findlay: [00:25:00] like what, my restaurant, my terms, like people love them. They think they're amazing. But, there is a few people that they're there after the she talkies or the lion's mane or, I even have my one chef he's obsessed with my Chestnut mushrooms now. So he always wants those. So it depends on the person, but, like even if I've been out of mushrooms a couple of times when people were bummed out, I thought, for sure, because there were so easy to grow and so abundant that wouldn't be the most sought after thing, but I guess even then they still are.
Diego: [00:25:31] So given that let's see. Waster mushrooms are the salad mix equivalent. is that a fair statement? Yeah. So if you're selling oyster mushrooms, you have an array of colors of oyster mushrooms in the same package. Is that how the booth will be
John Findlay: [00:25:48] two or two or three different colors? Depending if it's a small package, maybe two. And then if it's a bigger package, maybe I can fit four different colors. If there's smaller clusters type, you can also do some mixing and matching.
Diego: [00:25:57] Packs that are oysters mushrooms and lion's mane and chest that mushrooms all in one for people that are looking for some sort of sampler or that they're really into mushrooms, they just want to try some different things.
Or do you find that selling products as individual types, for lack of a better word is best like there's packs of voicer there's packs of lion's mane. There's packs of Chestnut. If you want them all, you're buying one of each.
John Findlay: [00:26:27] Yeah, I, I haven't had, too much experience with packaging them all together, But, for the most part, I guess there was only a bit of lions man and a bit of chestnuts at the end of last year. It was just trying to fit in a few different species just at the end of the season. And, So I did keep them separate, but I, my chefs do like the idea of me bringing in a mixed pack every once in a while. So I imagine that the farmer's market for the bigger baskets, I could probably do that.
Diego: [00:26:54] Playing off the idea of chefs. How did you first get into that market? Was it the common thing that vegetable people are doing? I'm just going to go door to door, essentially. I'm a new farmer I'm growing mushrooms. Would you be interested in buying them? Were you growing them at the point when you approach them? Can you walk us through that story and how that came about?
John Findlay: [00:27:16] I'll go through three quick. And, my first one, I put it, a post up on social media and I tagged, I think about five local restaurants that were saying that they're into buying local produce.
So I just kinda threw it out there. And, I got word back from two of them, as soon as I mentioned my price. One on stop talking to me and then the other one said, yeah, I'd love to work with you. So I was really excited. I had one guy on board. second guy, I was running into, a local, I guess bulk food store.
And there's a man at the cash register with this large basket of button mushrooms. And that was all he had. I thought to myself, Hey, I should probably give them a business card. So I. I went back and tapped his arm, scared. but give him my card. I said, Hey, if you're interested in mushrooms, I grow.
And, you start asking me what kinds of whatnot. So I ended a discussion with them and, found out later on that he was, One of the chefs at a local, very high class restaurant. And I happen to have, in my delivery truck, I was just bagging up mushrooms and leaving them in a cooler in my truck.
And just asking customers as I was delivering. Hey, do you like mushrooms? Do you want to try these out and just giving away samples? I was able to give the chef a sample. And as soon as he looked at them, I said, you won't get that quality. I said, those are a couple of days old. I'd always bring you fresh ones.
And he said, you bring me much from Steven. This quality I'll take five, 10 pounds a week. No problem. And I was just super happy. And that was just one of those non coincidence things. The university's looking after you. But I did try just walking into a restaurant once with one of the vege farmers at the end of a market.
I had a bunch left over. And one of the veggie farmers was like, Hey, you should come with me. I'm going to talk to the chef next door. He's really cool. And so I go in and he looks at him. He says, yeah, they look really nice. I'll take your number, but I'm not interested. And I never heard back from him kind of deal. So good and bad.
Diego: [00:29:05] I love the idea of just seizing the moment, seeing somebody buy mushrooms and having the thought. And then the follow through to approach them, which isn't always the most comfortable thing and say, Hey, I noticed this, I do this. Maybe we can help each other work with each other. And is that a relationship that it's still going today?
John Findlay: [00:29:30] the comments from like it's, two brothers that own the restaurant and the comments they comment on my mind. They say they couldn't get that high quality of mushrooms anywhere in the world. Like you even. Even in big cities, they said nobody takes care of mushroom psychiatry. it makes me feel really proud of my products and know that I'm doing the right thing.
Diego: [00:29:50] It's great to hear it. And then there's a few things in there that I guess I want to play off of. One is one chef bar or one restaurant balked at your price when they heard it, they said no. Or they weren't interested. And the other chef who you met in the store, They love the quality. What's the price point of say Cisco mushrooms or food distribution mushrooms for the types that you're selling about compared to where you're at.
And then the second part of that is you're mentioning quality a lot. What is it about more, the more readily available sources of mushrooms that chefs and customers may be buying from? That makes them lower quality.
John Findlay: [00:30:40] Okay. the first part, would be the food distributors. And from what I hear, they're, they're at about $8 a pound for their mushrooms, but, so they're grown in Southern Ontario.
So we're about eight hours North in Sioux st. Marie. And by the time it sits nowhere, I was and gets up here pretty much by the time oyster mushrooms hit the shelf in a grocery store there they're not good because we're used to mushrooms. They're good from maybe four to seven days at best.
As soon as it's picked, I like to take it the same day, but if it sits in my fridge for a day, that's okay. But I don't let it sit in my fridge for more than two days to before I'd bring a true customer. otherwise, I'll, find a different use for it because, I believe that everyone should have the best quality if they're going to be paying the prices I'm asking.
Diego: [00:31:29] Yeah. So anything freshness really does matter in this is that they just degenerate and appearance color changes and they look sadder. The more they sit
John Findlay: [00:31:38] when you're harvesting them, if you're very delicate, then you won't crack the mushrooms. if the. So if I'm not very gentle with the mushrooms, so crack here or there, and then when they crack they're exposed to air.
So they'll actually like, fray or, just not look as appealing and a lot quicker type deal so that the more gentle and careful you are and picking them at the right time, not something that I think is always looked at for bigger growers or are all growers, for that matter.
Diego: [00:32:09] And the price point that you mentioned you're at $12 a pound in a restaurants. They're getting it from a food distributor at eight. So you're 50% more, the chefs that are buying it. Love it. So appearance, quality freshness, that relationship gets you a huge premium over the food distributors.
John Findlay: [00:32:27] Yeah, for sure.
Diego: [00:32:29] For somebody listened to this and thinking about potentially growing mushrooms. What are your thoughts for somebody who has a badge operation of the style that somebody like Curtis or Ben Hartman has? And they're doing the vege farm thing. Let's say it's working, it's running and they want to start growing mushrooms on the side.
What are your thoughts? Around mushrooms as an add on Mike, as an add on operation. If we think micro greens on top of vegetables, there's a lot of synergy there. If I want to add mushrooms on the vegetables, knowing what you know, learn from Paul, learn from Brian. What are your thoughts around that? A vegetable farmer wants to do this.
John Findlay: [00:33:17] Depending on bigger vegetable operation is if you're only doing, maybe a part-time vegetable operation and you want to do the other part-time as a mushroom operation, like as long as you have the time and money to, start everything. then that's fine. And that is as long as there's the market, because that was a big thing for me.
Like my main market is the farmer's market. And if there was another guy there selling them full time and, then I'm not sure I'd be able to make the same amount that I am making. I'd probably have to come down and which means they'd have to grow quite a bit more. So I don't know if I'd be able to, afford doing it the way I'm doing it.
Diego: [00:33:58] If that wasn't the case in skill-wise do you think mushrooms is a lot harder? I'm listening to this and I'm thinking maybe harder is the wrong word. More of a specific knowledge set. I don't want to devalue what say somebody like Chris Thoreau does, who grows? Microgreens but you just put seeds on soil and you have the right temperature and they're going to grow.
It doesn't, you don't need a hood. You don't need a lab. I've seen Brian set up in person it's scientific. Is it as scientific as I'm thinking it is. And is that potentially. Does that mean not for good or for bad that somebody is going to have to be a lot more precise and controlled. If they're going to grow mushrooms on the side, they're going to have the right environment.
They're going to have to know these steps. They're going to have to take the action and put processes in place to ensure that cleanliness, sterility, all those types of things are there.
John Findlay: [00:35:00] So what a person could do if they wanted to start out part-time is what you can do is as a start out mushroom primary, as you can buy mushroom bags at the last, process that are just ready to fruit.
So if someone really wanted to, they could just build the fruit room, just the last room. They would need a lab or an incubation space. They just need a fruit room. They could buy the mushroom bags, then they would need the clean space that just grow the mushrooms zone thing is the bags cost a bit more.
If you want to do your own bags, then you're going to build your own laboratory. So if someone wanted to start out part-time and try it, they probably could, depending on where they live. Cause shipping costs could be quite a bit, but, they like, that's what a lot of people say to start out. Most people don't like, I started out, I spent $25,000 before I grew my first mushroom, but I was, I just believed in the process and I really trusted it.
Diego: [00:35:51] The bags themselves. Are you current on any sort of pricing? if somebody is going to buy a grow bag for oyster mushrooms, do you know about what they'd be paying?
John Findlay: [00:35:59] I think there between 10 and $20 each, maybe a cheaper if you're buying bulk. Those are probably Canadian prices too, though. So it might be cheaper in the States.
Diego: [00:36:10] It's 20 for math's sake. How many pounds do you think you'd get out?
John Findlay: [00:36:16] Probably two to three pounds
Diego: [00:36:18] is a two to three pound laissez get to on the low end and you can sell those at your prices. $40 for $20 in you have to put the space around them. But beyond that, there's. There's not any input, like you're not adding compost or fertilizer or anything like that. It's the grow bag, the environment.
John Findlay: [00:36:38] Yeah. Yeah. It's not too bad right now.
Diego: [00:36:40] Have you and your operation, how many bags a week do you have? And you're producing all this yourself internally. If I'm going to show up on a given day in peak production season in your grow room or your fruiting room, where all the fruits happening. How many bags am I going to see?
John Findlay: [00:37:00] in my fruiting room, I can fit. I think I'm about 500 bags in a 10 by 10 space. And, but then in my there'd be different stages of the process. It would be everything from a Petri dish. That's just starting to Petri dish, the sending to a grain jar. That's starting spawn bag. That's starting in a fruit peg that's ending and different processes. there's a, there's at least a hundred bags a week. And it was probably a 500 in each building. So like at most, maybe 1500 beds.
Diego: [00:37:35] So that seems like a lot to me. 50, if somebody thinks some, say tomatoes, There are 1500 tomato plants. That's a lot of tomato plants management of those bags on a day-to-day basis. What's entailed.
John Findlay: [00:37:48] It's not too bad. Like I'm either I'm filling up bags to cook a batch. I can fit 300 pounds of a substrate in my 85 gallon. Bubba's barrel at a time and a that'll cook for 20 hours and it's got to cool down for two days.
And then I'm able to inoculate it and, usually spawn bags. So I could fill up, either 25 pound bags or 10, 10 pound bags, depending on the variety of growing I'm experimenting with different size bags. Maybe like a hundred to 200 bags a week are flowing through my room.
Diego: [00:38:25] When it comes to the harvest, is it like a tomato plant where let's say an indeterminant tomato plant where you're going to have different fruit ripening at different stages? Or is it more like a determinant plant or for the most part? All the fruits going to hit at the same time. So you go to a bag. To harvest you strip the whole bag. That bag is done.
John Findlay: [00:38:48] Yeah. So for bags, depending on the strain and the size of the bag, we'll determine how long it's going to take their fruit.
So last year I had it down to where if I wanted, the Phoenix, the Brown oyster, and I'd put it in five days before I wanted to harvest. But if I wanted the blue oyster, then I'd put it in seven days before I wanted to harvest. So it was always trying to line everything up. So it was ready the night before, or the chef would get it, or the night before the market.
but that's not always the case for a lot of mushrooms. they just kinda come up when they come up and some of them take a few days to fully fruit and some of them I'm doing right now and they've been in there for over a month and they're just starting.
Diego: [00:39:26] And when you go to harvest, are you going around the room bag to bag and picking runs, harvesting ones that. Are ready to be harvested visually or do you know that. EV, if you're timing it. And your timing's accurate that when you go in at five days, every oyster mushroom in there is going to get harvested at five days. Like it's all coming off. I'm just trying to get a sense of, are they are oyster or mushrooms in general? Cut and come again with these bags or that is the bag I harvest it. Once that bag goes to camp?
John Findlay: [00:40:04] how it works is, we'll usually get, the initial flash will be that the most weight. So let's say you get two pounds and then your second flush you'll get a pound. So sometimes you might only get a pound and a half the first time and three quarters, a pound.
The second goal. But it's it's not really worth keeping it around for a third goal. You might get a quarter pound or something. So it's usually, put it in there. Wait to a week to two weeks, depending on the variety. it'll fruit, leave it in there for another week, two weeks, and then you'll get the second fruit and then I'll remove it.
Diego: [00:40:36] So imagine there's a fair bit of knowledge and just data tracking, knowing the age of each bag in there or sectionalizing it. So these bags went in on this day, so you know, where everything is in the flow to introduce new bags, get rid of the older bags.
John Findlay: [00:40:51] Yeah. Yeah. I'm trying my best to, to schedule everything. And certain bags are going in at a certain day and certain bags are coming out at a certain date
Diego: [00:40:58] In any given week. How many hours are you spending harvesting
John Findlay: [00:41:02] maybe an hour, a day of harvesting. maybe days before market, maybe two hours, if it's, if I know it's gonna be a good market, if I know it's gonna be a good market, I'll usually plan a few more bags kind of thing. And, if I know it's not going to be that good of a market, I don't want to bring too much just from my notes from last year.
Diego: [00:41:22] It's going to be a slow week if you don't have a lot of restaurant orders, grocery store orders, can you leave mushrooms? On the bag and not harvest in and not harvest them. And will they hold quality or is it one of those things like Krista road talks about with Mica Marines, there's really an optimum day to harvest it. And if you don't harvest it, then it'll still be good. It just won't be good.
John Findlay: [00:41:50] It's not even a day. Diego it's, it's less than half a day. You have to pick it within less than a half a day of a window. Pretty much, because they grow so quick. like I'll go out in the morning and there'll be some mushrooms. I probably should have woke up halfway through the night and harvested. And, but I'm only going to harvest, before I go to bed in the morning and sometimes in the afternoon as well.
Diego: [00:42:12] Cause you're continually checking. This is almost like a dairy operation. I got to milk them twice a day or whatever the cycle is. You gotta be on top of this
John Findlay: [00:42:22] because if I let them go. What happens is if the cap's open too much, then they release billions and billions of spores. And I got fans going like crazy in there, and they'll just pretty much coat the room and, in sports and it makes quite the mess. So you want to be on top of your game and always getting the mushrooms as they're at the perfect stage
Diego: [00:42:43] So if we ignore the disaster scenario there. Does appearance and taste get effected by harvesting past optimum.
John Findlay: [00:42:53] Yeah, for sure. Ah, the taste isn't there and the firmness isn't there. They get, they get weak and they lose their color.
Diego: [00:42:59] So if somebody I'm thinking again of the vegetable grower and what you're saying, if you're just buying the bags, you're really going to have to figure out timing and say session with these bags in your conditions. To optimize it. And it's going to probably require I'm thinking a long growing learning curve to find out, okay.
If I start a bag here, I'm getting it from this supplier. This is when I harvest, this is when the next bag has to go in. But once you get it down, do you think it can be fairly regular? Like I'm introducing these bags on Sunday every Friday, I can. More or less expect to be harvesting oysters.
John Findlay: [00:43:44] If it's the veggie farmer and he's buying bags from somewhere, they'll probably almost guaranteed, fruit on commands. But if you're doing it yourself there, unless you're doing it exactly precise, with the amount of seed or spawn into each bag. And there's not always a hundred percent chance that they'll all colonize as quickly as each other. sometimes things don't go as quickly as each other. So that's why I feel like I'm always doing extra just to be able to make up for anything that doesn't end up coming up on time
Diego: [00:44:16] In thinking about your growth set up and what you have. You talked about initially spending $25,000 before you started production for somebody who's maybe looking to get into this. Where did that $25,000 kind of go? Was it infrastructure? I know you did some education in here. Was it actual gross applies itself? What can somebody expect?
John Findlay: [00:44:42] Yeah. Out of that, I'd say, maybe a third was education. I'd say you probably don't need to go that far. There's excellent groups on social media platforms and even on YouTube there's are, there's plenty of growers out there, myself included that have great educational videos on how to grow mushrooms.
The rest of the cost was, probably set up, location. Maybe half with the tools that I needed, but most of that is the laboratory setup. So someone probably could set up a fruit room, relatively inexpensively, but to have the whole setup, you need to spend an initial amount.
Diego: [00:45:22] If somebody is doing it as an add on for a veg operation, what type of environment. Would you recommend that they look into researching? We don't have to get into every nitty gritty specific, but if they're going to go Googling stuff or certain seeking out videos, what are they looking for a room to grow pre-bought bags?
John Findlay: [00:45:43] Yeah. I don't know if there's a specific that's the one thing about mushroom growing is every person that's doing it is doing it a little bit different. So it's almost best to get a perspective from a few of the ones that are doing it more like the way that you're able to do it in your area. getting a, probably a 10 by 15 space or something like that, just for a fruit room and a place to have fridges and a counter space to work on. Out of the fruit room, that would probably be best for someone with a vege operation.
Diego: [00:46:17] Yeah. The other big part of this is growing is one thing selling we've covered a lot. You harvest at the right time. What's the best way to store a mushroom to ensure that quality is preserved between when you harvest it. And when it gets into the customer's hands?
John Findlay: [00:46:35] pretty straight forward, I guess I just, bring the mushrooms out. I'll trim them up. To take off all the substrate. So it's just a pure mushroom. And, I got these, streetwall mash containers. They're like, are hard mash and, I'll set down, I think it's wax paper in the bottom and the set them down on that and I'll, take a damp towel and I'll lay it over top.
Firmly over top. So it doesn't like bow down and touch the mushrooms. Cause if it actually falls down and touches the mushrooms, it'll ruin the appearance and you won't want to sell them. So it's important to have something that's going to sit on top. that'll hold in the moisture kind of deal. And then I'll set it in the fridge.
Diego: [00:47:14] Keep them moist, keep them dry. Keep them cold. And you're not sealing them any sort of bag or anything like that?
John Findlay: [00:47:21] no. And, the longer it sits there, the more sports it'll release. that's why you want to, the sooner you can get rid of it, the better
Diego: [00:47:28] and about harvest in these mushrooms, being a big hit with chefs, what types of mushrooms do you find chefs really resonate with? Are they looking beyond oysters are able, I guess the first question is our oyster is really the staple. Of mushrooms. If you're, if there's going to be a small grower, is oysters, the bread and butter that you're probably growing in. Most people want to buy.
John Findlay: [00:47:51] Yeah. I say always through like my chefs always telling me, what, we'll always take your oysters, they do appreciate all the other kinds, but that they know that other kinds, take time and skill, to come to fruition.
like for the most part, yeah. Most people are gonna, enjoy oyster mushrooms and seek out them. But, like chefs are pretty much happy to get anything that's different. So whenever I'm bringing them some Chestnut mushrooms or, some really nice big King oyster mushrooms or, some lions, man, they're pretty happy.
Diego: [00:48:22] Here's the cool thing here in your story is what you have is really unique. A lot of edge farmers. Are facing competition in areas, big markets, small markets, the barrier of edge is pretty low. I could start a farm tomorrow if I wanted to, but to start a mushroom operation, I do think there's more, there's a bigger barrier to entry, not an impossible wall to climb, but it is harder.
And it requires a specific knowledge set that takes time to gain. And not that vegetable farming doesn't, but I just. I've talked to enough vegetable farmers, and I think the mushrooms are more advanced that it keeps your product very unique. And I don't know. do you face much competition? You have that other grower who's selling some mushrooms at the farmer's market in addition of edge, but do you feel like. This is really your market.
John Findlay: [00:49:18] Yeah, totally. If, like as soon as I ended up, evolving into a more serious setup, I'll definitely capitalize this entire city just because it's so far from any other city, I should be able to just take over their complete market.
Diego: [00:49:31] You've had some good success in 2018. It's 2019. It's still early in the season. This is your first full year farming mushrooms. How's it felt so far.
John Findlay: [00:49:43] It's almost surreal to be honest Diego, ah, I'll watch my, content on social media or YouTube. And I just think, I don't know who this guy is, but he's doing really good things. So this life, like I'm pretty excited. Like a lot of people are really excited about, this beginning and I see nothing but great things to follow in the future. Sure.
Diego: [00:50:02] It's great to hear. And I wish you the best of success knowing where you're at in your journey. Is this possible to make a full-time living small-scale mushroom farming. I think we've shown over the years, vegetable farming can definitely be done.
Somebody listened to this. They're intrigued by this vegetables. Aren't a fit for them. For whatever reason, they like the idea of mushrooms. Can you make a full-time living doing this?
John Findlay: [00:50:30] Oh, for sure. I follow a lot of, other commercial mushroom growers from all over and, a lot of them keep quiet about, how they do what they do, but, like seeing the products that everyone comes out with that just seems like there's very little competition, no matter where you are.
And it's a great, it's a great field to get into. definitely if your area doesn't have a mushroom grower already, it's something to definitely worth looking into.
Diego: [00:50:56] one of the other things I'm thinking is it's and tell me if I'm wrong here. It's. Very easy to potentially scale given space that you have.
you can put a lot of grow bags in a tiny footprint where if you have a hundred beds of Salah, Nova lettuce, and you want to add another a hundred beds, like that's going to require a significant amount of land for you to take. a grow room that has 500 bags and replicate that it's not going to require that much land.
So you could go from, if the market's there, the sales are there. You can have a ton of production coming off, a relatively small footprint. Versus a lot of field vegetable
John Findlay: [00:51:47] crops. You could even go higher with your shelving and put more bags in a space if you really wanted to. But, I liked just being able to reach everything from, from where I'm standing or kneeling.
yeah, you could, just pretty much what it is you just have to duplicate your incubation and your fruiting spaces together. And, your laboratory can usually stay the same size unless you're not able to do all the work. And in which case, you'd probably need a second laboratory if you're hiring more people. But then you're scaling up quite a bit.
Diego: [00:52:16] Love your story. Love, hearing what you're doing. For people that want to learn more about this. You've mentioned some good resources in here, like Brian Callow, but you yourself. You're also a great resource. You're active on social media. You have a YouTube channel. If people want to see more of your operation, learn from you, maybe ask you questions, follow up on this episode. What are the best places to go to see? And
John Findlay: [00:52:43] I'm on Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook at, fine lays fungus. F I N D L a Y F U N G U S. And, check it out. I'm always open to answering any questions and, appreciate you taking me on show
Diego: [00:53:00] there. You have it, John fine. Lay of find fungus. If you want to follow along with everything that John's doing, be sure to check them out on social media, on Instagram and on YouTube, which I've linked to in the notes for this episode. If you enjoyed this episode and you want to hear more episodes with small-scale mushroom growers or vegetable growers who are growing mushrooms on the side, if that's an interesting topic, one that you think brings some value to the table, let me know on Instagram at Diego footer, and maybe we'll do more episodes like this in the future.
Thanks for listening to this one today until next time. Be nice. Be thankful and do the work .
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