Did you know that there is a mushroom farm within the Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario? It’s a new venture for John Findlay, but one that he feels “was meant to be.” I had the pleasure of meeting John, who passionately talked about how he entered the life of a mushroom farmer.
John told me that he previously worked as an aircraft mechanic in the Canadian Military and that after his time in the military, he decided to move back to the Sault to be closer to family. “I was born and raised here, and this is the place where I wanted to settle down. Farming has always appealed to me and I wanted to see what would work here in the Sault.”
I asked how he got started in the mushroom growing business. “By chance, I listened to a podcast by Mycologist, Paul Stamets. Mr. Stamets is a renowned expert in all things fungus and mushrooms.” It was like a light bulb that turned on for John. “From there I wanted to learn more.” He sought out a course in BC on mushroom farming and travelled there to learn as much as he could. He also took online courses and read everything he could find on the subject. “I did some market research, and I found that producing gourmet mushrooms was a niche market that had not been tried locally.”
That was in 2017. In 2018, John launched his business called Findlay’s Fungus. He first grew his crop out of a trailer that was located just north of the Sault. After that, he moved into the city, where he currently grows mushrooms in a small facility located in his backyard.
The variety of gourmet and exotic mushrooms grown is exceptional and includes types you wouldn’t normally find in grocery stores. This is why local chefs have sought out John Findlay for his unusual and delicious mushrooms. Currently, he grows 15 different varieties depending on the time of year. In the winter (when I interviewed John), he was growing, Lion’s Mane, Phoenix Oyster and Blue Oyster, Cinnamon Caps, and Shitake mushrooms.
It was great to tour his growing operations, where some of the mushrooms are grown in special “fruit bags” containing red oak sawdust and different varieties of mushroom spores. These bags containing the spores are shipped in from Maritime Gourmet Mushrooms in Nova Scotia. They are kept in an environment that must be a perfect balance of heat, humidity, air circulation, and light. It can take from seven days to several weeks to grow the crops, depending on the variety. Each “fruit bag” can grow two to three crops. John has several local farmers he has partnered with who will take the spent fruit bags and compost them.
Tourists and all customers can find Findlay’s Fungus at the Mill Market in Sault Ste. Marie, as well as at local restaurants including Embers Grill & Smokehouse, Arturo Ristorante, and The Country Way. John’s customers love the mushrooms because of their unique flavour and freshness, as well as their health value and medicinal properties. They are harvested and delivered within three days. John boasts that because his products are sold by the pound, he trims any excess off before they are weighed so that his customers are only paying for the usable part of the mushroom and not the trimmings.
John also pointed out that there has been a lot of scientific research conducted and published about the health benefits of mushrooms. He recommends that if anyone is looking to eat healthier, they should consider eating a variety of mushrooms.
John mentioned that his Future plans include “purchasing a dehydrator to make value-added products like mushroom jerky, soups, and other products.” He has been experimenting with compostable packaging instead of plastic clam shells. At this time Finlay’s Fungus grows 50 pounds per week and aims to eventually produce between 100 and 300 pounds per week.
I had never interviewed a mushroom farmer before and found the operation very interesting. I had no idea how much science and work are involved in growing mushrooms, and I walked away from my visit with a whole new appreciation of mushroom farming. Findlay’s Fungus has already been in a couple of my recipes at home, and I am looking forward to trying more. John says: “my purpose for this business is providing a high-quality product everyone should eat for a longer and healthier life.” That sounds like a perfect mission statement to me!