Finding its own place in the growing Binghamton area food scene, Southern Tier Mushrooms is sprouting fresh, gourmet mushrooms to be sold and served in local stores and restaurants.
“The main goal of Southern Tier Mushrooms is to produce gourmet mushrooms locally to the Southern Tier region,” said Director of Operations Eddie Compagnone, ‘15. “When people are looking for a fresh-quality mushroom, they definitely would find us attractive.”
Located in a house on the South Side of the city of Binghamton called The Genome Collective, Southern Tier Mushrooms grows its crop in a basement-turned-mushroom farm. The Genome Collective house looks like an ordinary house at the surface, with a living room, kitchen and even a house dog — but in the basement is a laboratory setup with dozens of mushrooms stacked on shelves.
Compagnone, a member of The Genome Collective, described the house as a community with the common goal of food justice, and a commitment to the idea that communities should assert their right to eat fresh, healthy food. The owner of Southern Tier Mushrooms, Bill Sica, rented the basement of The Genome Collective for growing space, and Compagnone and fellow resident, Louis Vassar Semanchik, were drawn to the project.
“[Louis] and I started helping Bill as we were residing here, because we saw potential in his business,” Compagnone said.
The mushroom growing process begins on a microscopic level inside of a petri dish. The mushrooms start out in the early stages of a fungi as a mycelium and grow on sugars inside of the dish. After the mycelium has grown enough, oats commonly used as horse feed are added to provide nutrients to the mycelium and allow it to grow. The matured mycelium is then mixed in a bag with sawdust, to which the mycelium attaches itself, and begins to grow into mushrooms. The mushrooms grow in a closed-off room in the basement called the fruiting chamber. Outside of that room, there is an adjoining space that houses a machine called a pond fogger to create artificial humidity. This replicates the ideal natural conditions needed for the mushrooms to grow.
At their indoor farm, Southern Tier Mushrooms mainly grows oyster mushrooms, but it is also experimenting with other types, like lion’s mane and reishi. The gourmet mushrooms produced by the farm are popular not only for their taste, but also for their health benefits. Compagnone explained that oyster mushrooms can lower cholesterol and lion’s mane mushrooms can restore the myelin sheath in the brain, improving memory.
The farm is currently selling its mushrooms to local businesses like health food store Old Barn Hollow and Citrea Restaurant and Bar, both in Downtown Binghamton. Southern Tier Mushrooms aims to produce fresh mushrooms for businesses in New York, and Compagnone said they are working with five more businesses on possible partnerships. In the future, Southern Tier Mushrooms plans to expand into a warehouse to grow on a larger scale and distribute to as many people as possible.
To Compagnone, sourcing local food allows distributors to provide benefits of health, taste and quality in ways that nationwide distributors cannot, primarily due to the time it takes to transport them and the preservatives needed. According to him, indoor farming is part of a growing trend, thanks to a renewed interest in do-it-yourself food production and concerns about unstable environmental conditions.
“This is what the future of farming looks like,” Compagnone said.