The Biocentric Brothers, Chase and Kyle England, are by now familiar faces in the Salt Lake food and farm scene. Natives of Layton, Utah, they began selling locally grown medicinal and culinary mushrooms at the Salt Lake Downtown Farmers Market in 2012. Recently Chase England stopped by CATALYST to share some exciting news. After three great years in business, Bio Brothers is expanding their operations.
The first big step came this past winter when Chase and Kyle moved their mushroom nursery into a new 4,000-square-foot warehouse in Ogden. Eventually, the space will double as a salesroom. As adaptable as their product, the brothers have come a long way from the hoop houses where they once grew their prize fungi.
The new high-tech warehouse has specialized rooms designed to give the mushrooms the best growing environment possible. In the fruiting room, which looks like the mushroom equivalent of a cheese-aging cave, portable shelving units hold stacks of mushrooms logs, orderly rows of little brown loaves wrapped in plastic bags waiting to bloom. Catering to the tastes and whims of another variety, an adjacent room holds hanging plastic columns filled with mushroom spore-inoculated straw.
With all the extra space, the brothers expect to boost production from 30-50 pounds of mushrooms a week to around 100 pounds per week. While some of the bounty will be available at their market stall, more customers will also be able to sign up for a Bio Brothers’ mushroom CSA, the first of its kind in Utah. The Bio Brothers sold their first 25 shares last winter (full and half shares starting at $50) and look forward to selling twice as many this coming summer.
As the new, expanded Biocentric Brothers gets on its feet this summer, Chase promises that there is one thing the brother’s won’t change: their commitment to education. Eager as they are to grow mushrooms for others, they remain equally excited to teach people how to grow their own. It’s a public education campaign that, surprisingly, needs a lot more work. Chase says he still hears the same question everywhere he goes: “Isn’t Utah too dry for mushrooms?”
“Caring for mushrooms is like taking care of an animal or any other farm thing,” Chase explains. “You do have to be attentive to the plant’s needs, morning and night, but the good thing is, there’s no one right way to grow a mushroom.”
Mushrooms grow primarily on hardwoods—trees like maple and oak, which don’t grow naturally in the west. But mushrooms are also very adaptable. Growing in an arid region filled with softwood forests isn’t impossible, even though softwoods often have anti-fungal chemicals and bacteria that inhibit mushroom growth. In the Uinta Mountains, where Utah’s mushrooms grow most prolifically, fungi have no choice but to make their beds in decomposing softwood. They survive, says Chase, by creating protective and supportive mycelium networks and working symbiotically with other organisms in the soil.
To keep their business as sustainable and local as possible, Chase and Kyle try to use growing mediums for their mushrooms that come from the local environment—you won’t see any mushroom plugs growing in hardwood logs at their warehouse. It does limit what they can grow to mushrooms that are better adapted to Utah’s growing environment, mushrooms like enkoi, lion’s mane, king oyster, reishi and shiitake.
“Lion’s mane is definitely my favorite,” says Chase, who compares the stringy texture and sweet taste of the mushroom to crab meat. Without the super pungent fungal notes, lion’s mane is a preferred mushroom for those who normally don’t like fungi. But it’s the aesthetics of lion’s mane, which has teeth instead of gills, that really gets Chase excited. Starting from a small round ball, the lion’s mane’s teeth begin to grow like short hairs until, at full maturity it resembles a cheerleader’s pompom or a piece of white coral.
“You won’t find this Asian mushroom in the grocery store,” says Chase, “because it doesn’t hold up well to travel. Fresh is the only way to get it.” Just another reason to be thankful for Utah’s Biocentric Brothers.
Biocentricbros.com: The brothers recently launched a new website. You can read their blog, sign up for their CSA, discover mushroom resources and learn more about their grow operation.