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As demand for mushrooms grows, so does mycology interest in Central Texas

One local company grows 5,000 pounds of mushrooms per week to sell in grocery stores across the state.

BUDA, Texas — Every week, Smallhold grows thousands of pounds of mushrooms: lion's mane, oyster and shiitake are just some of the varieties.

"We cultivate a variety of wood-loving species that thrive in cool humidified environments," said Travis Breihan, impact manager at Smallhold. "Basically, to grow these sets of mushrooms year-round, we have to create these indoor systems that allow us to control and replicate what nature would be providing, like in a cool, misty morning in the spring or fall."

Smallhold uses artificial intelligence technology to manually control the temperature, humidity and environment inside a cooler that has mushrooms growing. The ecosystem is controlled down to the minute to maximize mushroom production.

"Mushrooms are about 90% water," Breihan said. "They're absorbing it from the atmosphere as well as water that was introduced into the biomass. That's what they're using to feed their cell structures."

According to Breihan, Smallhold uses approximately one pound of water for every one pound of mushrooms. He argues it's one of the most efficient foods to grow.

"You can compare that to another produce that takes about 30 gallons of water to produce a pound of tomatoes or, you know, five gallons of water to produce a pound of lettuce, or 200 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef," Breihan said. "I think this is not only the future of mushroom farming, but I think it's a really important part of the food system, maybe, for it's a way to be really environmentally efficient with our resources."

Breihan added that the demand for mushrooms continues to grow. With that demand, interest in mushrooms and mycology has gained traction too.

"Fungi goes back millions and millions of years, before we were even here on this planet, and they've been cycling things," said Angel Schatz, one of the leaders of Central Texas Mycological Society (CTMS). "They are our transmuters. They are helping us clean things up in the environment, including our mental health, our physical health, all those sorts of things."

Schatz joined CTMS two years ago. It's now grown to 700 volunteers, all looking to educate on the benefits of mushrooms.

"We are working with the farms to learn how to cycle them and put them back in the soil where they belong," Schatz said of the blocks of organic material Smallhold uses to grow the mushrooms.

CTMS and Smallhold work together to take the blocks of material – typically made up of sawdust and other small particulates – and use them similarly to compost in gardens and near trees.

CTMS plans to hold an event on Saturday to teach people how to use other containers, such as bird cages, to grow different mushroom varieties.

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