In an old auto garage bay just south of downtown Raleigh, Sarah Smith and Jeff Magner pluck mushrooms straight from the air.
Plastic bags stuffed with straw dangle from the ceiling. Oyster mushrooms spring from holes cut into the sides.
Smith and Magner search out the mushrooms ready for dinner plates, drop them into plastic buckets and try to get them to Triangle consumers as quickly as possible.
Their business, 1034 Mushrooms, has been operating since January and joins a few other indoor mushroom-growing operations in the Triangle, including Woodfruit, Laughing Spirit Farm and Understory Farm, which sell at the Durham and Carrboro farmers markets. Most other locally cultivated mushrooms are grown outdoors.
1034 Mushrooms’ products (oyster, shiitake and lion’s mane mushrooms) are sold via Double T Farm at the weekly farmers market at Rebus Works. They also supply mushrooms for The Produce Box, which provides weekly deliveries of North Carolina foods to local consumers. They hope to eventually sell to restaurant chefs.
Right now, they produce from 100 to 200 pounds of mushrooms per week. They hope to boost their yield to 300 to 400 pounds per week with the recent hire of a new employee.
Smith, 34, has a background in microbiology and soil science. Magner, 58, owns MagnerVision, where he designs and builds mixed-media furniture and other work. The pair are trying to perfect their mushroom growing process.
“We’re always trouble-shooting and figuring out how to do better,” Smith said.
They test whether the temperature is right and the humidity is sufficient in the plastic-sheeted room where their oyster mushrooms live. They experiment with blends of sawdust and grains that their far pickier shiitakes will grow on. They keep a sterile laboratory to ensure their goods get started right.
“It’s not the most glamorous thing, but it’s cool,” Magner said. “And when you see them start growing, that’s your satisfaction.”