iN VIDEO: Summerland mushroom business finds way through pandemic to new market

A three pound box of tree oyster mushrooms ready for farm pickup at the What the Fungus mushroom farm in Summerland.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / What the Fungus mushroom farm Facebook page

Brian Callow never would have thought something as negative as the COVID-19 pandemic could have such a positive influence on his Okanagan business.

His Summerland based business, 'What the Fungus' has been offering up a supply of gourmet mushrooms to restaurants and farmers' markets throughout the Okanagan since 2014, but like many local food producers, found his market disappear overnight when COVID-19 restrictions shuttered most of the businesses he catered to.

“We had to pivot to home delivery and farm pickup, which has been going really well. This year with COVID... we’ve had to come up with a lot of different strategies to move our product,” he says. “It’s interesting, what a huge opportunity this has been for us to provide home delivery in the Okanagan. A lot of people are buying $40 to $70 orders. I didn’t expect that."

Callow says What the Fungus has effectively doubled its business. He notes the 40 or so restaurants he supplies are a finite market, while the new home delivery side is “exponential.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made us think differently about our business, but in a good way,” he says. "We’re doing considerably well right now.”

What the Fungus also does a lot of online sales with a newly developed website launched earlier this year.

What the Fungus is located at 18420 Garnet Valley Road. The company grows mushrooms in a greenhouse environment seasonally from April until the end of October.

The mushrooms grown are known as ‘primary decomposers’ and grow on hardwoods supplied by Callow’s partner.

The hardwoods come from residential sources and can be anything from maple, poplar, willow and even invasive species.

“They aren’t manure-based species, so there is no odour from our operation. It’s considered environmentally friendly,” he says.

Mushroom varieties include six or seven species of oyster mushrooms, chestnut, lion’s mane and Reishi to name a few.

Callow says work is underway to begin drying mushrooms this year, something the business hasn’t done before.

What the Fungus has an educational component as well.

Callow says he’s had guests from around the world come to the farm under a mentorship program. The guests work the farm and learn the business from the ground up in week-long sessions.

Summerland's What the Fungus mushroom farm.

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