Urban farmer finds a niche in sprouting mushroom market

Published: Dec. 19, 2022 at 8:57 PM CST
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NORTH KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - There’s a booming cash crop sprouting in a warehouse just north of the Missouri River.

Robin Moore has been growing in the space for nearly a year now, painstakingly growing one of the most notoriously difficult types of produce. Moore’s company, MyCo Planet, grows mushrooms.

They aren’t the kind of fungal favorites found in most grocery stores. Moore’s varieties are colorful, flavorful, and sometimes giant. One of her specialties is called “lion’s mane,” a puffy variety the size and shape of a cauliflower.

Moore said she couldn’t find the varieties she wanted to use at the grocery stores.

Moore, who was working in the biotech industry, started experimenting with her new venture in her basement during the pandemic. She was soon growing around 70 pounds of mushrooms a week.

In January, she launched a full-time operation in a warehouse. After a few months, she was ready to expand. By the end of the year, she was producing almost 500 pounds of mushrooms a week. Now, she employs two full-time workers named Jake HIiger and Julia Nigro.

“I think it’s cool to be part of such a small business and produce so much food,” said Hilger, who works in the warehouse.

MyCo Planet sells to a number of specialty grocery stores and at farmer’s markets, but their biggest customers are in the restaurant industry. Nigro, who manages sales, said local chefs have not been able to find certain varieties, especially from local sources.

“They’re becoming very relevant and you just can’t find them in a lot of places,” she said.

One local restaurant that features the mushrooms is Room 39, located just down the street from the University of Kansas Hospital.

Owen Stevermer, a chef at Room 39, said he favors fresh mushrooms for their earthy and hearty flavor. He uses them as entrées, as well as side dishes and accoutrements.

“When you emphasize high quality ingredients, a byproduct is really good relationships with the people,” Stevermer said.

Moore also sells kits for customers to grow their own lion’s mane and other varieties at home. She said part of her mission in business is to educate people on the importance of local, sustainable food.

“Business is great,” she said. “We’re having a hard time keeping up with demand, so we’re trying to grow as fast as we can.”