Hi-Fi Mycology on Fungi's Potential to Change the Way We Eat

Sean Henry wants mushrooms for dessert

Hi-Fi Mycology co-founders Sean Henry and Cori Nellisen; chestnut mushrooms (Courtesy of Hi-Fi Mycology)

"Everyone's very interested in these new narratives and dialogues about how to farm the right way. And mycology is kind of right there in the middle," explains Sean Henry, co-founder of Hi-Fi Mycology, an urban mushroom farm that grows oyster, shiitake, maitake, and lion's mane mushrooms.

Henry says the process of growing mushrooms has big implications for creating a circular food system. "We are very passionate about fungi because they are definitely the missing piece in fixing a lot of our problems. They are not only an extremely healthy food source, [but] they grow on waste products," breaking down dead plants and animals. Fungi metabolize proteins in the soil so that plants can more easily access essential nutrients. Enzymes in fungi can even break down toxic chemicals, providing the potential to clean up polluted areas. "Humans have done animals for a long time. We've done plants for a long time. And we're just now scratching the surface of fungi, and they complete the circle."

Henry and his business partner Cory Nellisen grow fungi on a simulated log (a bag of wet sawdust augmented by wheat bran byproducts from Barton Springs Mill). "Most people, when you think of mushrooms, you think of rainy, cool weather," Henry says. To simulate that environment, fungi will grow in the bag for 14 to 60 days, then move into the "fruiting chamber," where the bag is opened and exposed to fresh air and high humidity. "So it's just like a storm rolling through. And that tells the mushroom to reproduce."

Though Austin doesn't usually have the weather conditions associated with mushroom growth, Henry says there are definitely lurkers everywhere. "At the beginning of this journey, maybe four years ago – I've been foraging in Austin for quite some time – we found an oyster mushroom and a lion's mane mushroom. We sell grow kits, so it's pretty cool that when someone buys a mushroom that they can grow on the kitchen counter, they're not growing a mushroom from Europe. They're growing a mushroom from Central Texas."

Because fungi essentially create nutrients in the soil by decomposing things, they can play an integral role in making food systems more sustainable and resilient; Henry says they "might actually enhance the fertility of the land instead of extracting." Once harvested, mushrooms' health benefits can play an important role in changing consumer behaviors as well: "You've got a lot of highly processed plant-based items coming out. Mushrooms, you don't have to process at all. So they are 100% going to be an absolutely integral part of food systems as people eat less meat, but still need complete protein."

At this weekend's Field Guide Festival, Hi-Fi will partner with Chef Ariana Quant of Uchi to provide the secret ingredient for a mystery dish: "I'm not going to say what we're going to collaborate on, but she's a pastry chef, and it's pretty awesome," he teases. "Because usually, when people think of mushrooms, they don't think: dessert. I think it'll be a really cool surprise for everyone to see."

The benefits of fungi will also be a topic of conversation at Field Guide Festival's Saturday symposium panel "Food as Medicine: Eating for Longevity and Happiness" at 2pm. Angel Schatz, forager at Central Texas Mycological Society, will be accompanied by Philip Speer, chef at Comedor and founder of Comedor Run Club, and Nicole Finkelstein from Herban Austin.

Hi-Fi Mycology sells mushrooms at the Lakeline, Barton Creek, Sunset Valley, Downtown, Mueller, Lone Star, and Dripping Springs farmers’ markets. See the full schedule or order your at-home grow kit on their website, hifimyco.com.

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Hi-Fi Mycology, Sean Henry, Field Guide Festival

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