From Fungi Fan to Mushroom Farmer

Eric Jong got ‘bitten by the mushroom bug’ the first time he met his business partner-to-be. Invited to the ecological college where Eric was studying, Adam Sayner was looking for a volunteer to help him make grow your own mushroom kits:

‘[Adam] talked about using mushrooms to recycle coffee waste (which is naturally pasteurised). And I just thought that whole concept was brilliant. That was the moment I thought, Wow! I need to see if we can do this together [..] We got talking and it all “clicked”.’

UK’s first urban mushroom farm

That was back in 2011. The Community Interest non-profit they founded together became the UK’s first urban mushroom farm. GroCycle won an award for Innovation; appeared on BBC1’s The One Show; and Eric and Adam were invited to build a low-tech mushroom farm as part of the V&A’s 2019 Food: Bigger than the Plate exhibition to highlight circular food solutions. 

Today, as well as selling its Gourmet Mushroom Grow Kits, GroCycle has a ‘mycelial network’ of 2,500 students taking its online courses in 80+ countries. We caught up with Eric days before the company celebrated 100,000 subscribers on its YouTube channel:

  • After you met Adam, how did your life change?

The first few years were like a dream stage, working out how this could or couldn’t work. We had very few commitments, very cheap living. Adam lived in a yurt, and I lived in a converted smokehouse with my wife. It was an experimentation phase and that was exciting. 

  • Why did you decide to leave Exeter (where the urban mushroom farm was based)?

We started to run online courses and there was tension over our time. We’d [also] discovered that a lot of people in that online community weren’t in cities. So, we decided to farm mushrooms in the countryside and expand on these low-tech techniques.

  • Do you wonder who your Mushroom Grow Kits inspire?

Not often enough! In the beginning years we used to go to the market to sell our produce and then to the local pub. There was a woman who worked in that pub and four years later Adam and I went back, and she recognised me. We explained what we were doing, and she said, ‘Oh, we got one of those mushroom kits for my dad and he loved it!’ That was incredible.

  • Favourite mushroom?

Chicken of the woods and lion’s mane. Chicken of the woods is just an amazing, amazing flavour. I remember being given my first one by a friend who picked them locally. That was the first wild mushroom I ever ate. And we’re just starting to learn more about lion’s mane. It’s known to boost brain cells and to generate them. 

  • Tell us a story.

We were blown away when someone couldn’t find a piece of mushroom equipment and somebody else said, ‘Look, I’m in New York. I can get it for you and send it to Sydney (Australia).’ That’s incredible to think about. We’ve got 2,500 students, and 1,800-1,900 are in this private Facebook group who connect with each other and support each other. The office we recently moved out of was in an old stable and you could see daylight through the doors, so at times it was pretty cold. But to be able to reach so many people through the internet is amazing.

  • What makes mushrooms so potent?

It’s the chemical compounds that they can isolate. No salad leaves make you hallucinate like psilocybin and no carrot has Hericene A (a compound found in lion’s mane mushrooms said to increase the strength of neural nodes).

  • What’s next? Are mushroom tinctures the way forward?

We’ve just moved into this farm. We’ll grow lion’s mane, reishi, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms. We’re doing the mushroom tinctures to learn more and to share our learnings. The focus for us has been and will be growing and supporting our community.

Quick Q&A

  • What sets mushrooms apart?

The sheer speed of growth. It takes 10-14 days to grow oyster mushrooms and you can see them double in size every day.

  • What’s the best thing about working with mushrooms?

Learning about them! They’re fascinating …

  • Biggest mushroom myth?

That they grow in the dark. The gourmet varieties need a little bit of light because they don’t photosynthesise, but they are phototropic. They need it (light) for the direction of growth. 

  • Most consumed mushroom?

Button mushrooms – they can be grown in the dark! 

  • No 1 mushroom no-no?

Over-picking in the wild. You just take away from this living organism that’s amazing. If you see a cluster, only pick about a third.

  • Top tip for anyone who’s curious?

Get a GroCycle Gourmet Mushroom Grow Kit and be amazed. It’s simple to do at home and within two weeks you’ve got a crop 😊 

Want to know more?

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