Inside Fungi Ally, Hadley’s Mushroom Cultivation Center

MassLive, July 28th, 2016, by Diane Lederman. Willie Crosby was growing mushrooms in two houses and at a farm on West Street — but he was running out of room.

So, in September, he moved into 2,500 square feet of space at a former produce depot at 311 River Road in North Hadley.

He fell into the space at the right moment, the 26-year-old said.

Now his business, Fungi Ally — with the help of a $10,000 grant earlier this year from the state Department of Agricultural Resources‘ Matching Enterprise Grants for Agriculture Program — is ready to go from growing and selling 150 pounds of mushrooms a week to 400.

This week, local retailers and representatives from Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture toured the new facility to learn more about the operation — and to consider selling Crosby’s mushrooms.

The agency organizes these tours periodically to help merge the worlds of its members and potential customers, and “to talk directly to the growers about growing food,” said CISA program associate Brian Snell.

Crosby, a 2012 graduate of the University of Massachusetts said he “made a right-hand turn into agriculture” while studying turf grass management.

He worked at the UMass farm in South Deerfield and at Simple Gifts Farm in North Amherst. When he realized there were “a lot of experienced” vegetable farmers, he decided to pursue a different route — and found mushrooms.

Since he launched his business, he said, more people are interested in eating and selling his crop.

He described the field of mycology — studying and observing fungi — as “becoming more mainstream.” He said there’s less mycophobia — the fear of or aversion to mushrooms — and that people “realize they can be beneficial.”

Crosby grows shiitake mushrooms, which are grown in blocks, and oyster and lion’s mane mushrooms, which are grown in bags of sawdust and cottonseed hull. Lion’s mane, he said, are a furry type of mushroom that people often want to pet.

He will soon be selling mushroom tincture as well, for what he said are its health properties.

The fungi take anywhere from two to four months to grow to the “fruiting” stage, when they become mushrooms.

He said the growing process is labor intensive — but he loves it.

“I look forward to innoculating in the lab,” he said. “It’s really fun. And the harvesting. Seeing that whole process is really cool.”

He has two part-time workers who help now.

Currently he sells mushrooms to grocers such as River Valley Market in Northampton, Green Fields Market in Greenfield, and Atkins Farm in Amherst, among others.

He also attends the weekly Amherst Farmer’s Market.

He sells the shiitake blocks for people to cultivate mushrooms at home, and offers classes on growing mushrooms.

Kevin Burt of North Hadley Sugar Shack decided to meet Crosby and attend the tour. He’s the shack’s sales and marketing specialist and was thinking of adding the mushrooms to the market.

He said most people think of the shack only as a place to go for maple syrup — but, they sell all kinds off fresh produce and meats.

He thinks selling “new, innovative” products like Crosby’s mushrooms will help differentiate his market from others.

At the end of the tour, Crosby was happy.

“It went very well (with) potentially new customers,” he said, adding that he was happy to show CISA what Fungi Ally does as well.

“They’re a resource,” he said of the organization.