After his stepfather was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2013, Jor’El Schustrin was watching a video about the beneficial effects of lion’s mane mushrooms on the disease’s symptoms. Coincidentally, Schustrin was already growing mushrooms on a small scale; he began administering them and noticed a distinct improvement in his stepfather’s focus and memory. The hobby morphed into a business, and he founded Stropharia Mushroom Farm with his brother Sheth.
While the “farm” is located in an industrial warehouse, the growing techniques are antiseptic and space-age. Cultivating them is a complex process that takes place in custom-built tents: a liquid culture is first poured into petri dishes, then colonized with grains such as rye or millet; the mushrooms are grown in substrate blocks that use hardwood oak and soy pellets to simulate a tree. It can take anywhere from two to nine months, depending on the variety.
Stropharia’s mushrooms have been a sensation with local restaurants, appearing on the menus of Hyde N Chic, Sails, Hogfish Harry’s, and A Table Apart. Schustrin also sells them at local farmer’s markets such as Pine Ridge Road, St. Paul’s, and Mercato. Lion’s mane remains his favorite variety, both for its taste and medicinal qualities; in the kitchen, he’s fond of black poplar (pioppino) mushrooms, which are also grown in Italy. “They’re great on pasta,” he says. “They have an earthy, nutty flavor, and the stalks taste like asparagus. While all mushrooms are medicinal to a degree, people are moving away from meat. These are great substitutes.”
The Schustrins are currently working with Dardanelo Coffee to produce a lion’s mane Colombian coffee and collaborating with Wanderlust Ice Cream to make a shiitake-flavored ice cream. Within five years, they hope to increase production from the current 80 to 100 pounds weekly to 500 pounds or more per week, and acquire a property to establish a dedicated facility.