Mushrooms hold a distinct place in society’s collective consciousness, to the untrained eye falling into two major categories: food and poison. It is a delicate line they walk, between a familiar friend and frightening foe. There is a small but motivated group of mushroom enthusiasts out to open the minds of people to the possibilities of the powerful and misunderstood mushroom.
At an unassuming house on Jacksonville’s Westside, fog pours out from the confines of a small shed into the bright, crisp air of a spring day. Inside is a zippered door of a tent housing about a dozen tan blocks with hundreds of pink and blue and white mushrooms poking out in an otherworldly bouquet. “They like 99% humidity, as humid as we can get it”, I am told by Noah, whose boyish enthusiasm is brimming from his eyes behind his glasses. Taken aback, it is hard to believe that any living thing could tolerate humidity higher than what Florida naturally offers. Pointing out a water-filled container with a tube running out of it, “This is a humidifier we built for ourselves” announced John, the stoic but warm and well-informed other half of the operation. As it turns out growing mushrooms is far more complicated than throwing down some compost and waiting. It is its own science, one shrouded in mystery.
Currently working out of the kitchen as a lab and the small backyard shed as an incubation space, John and Noah have made mushrooms the center of their worlds. From seeding the cubes of plant matter with spores, to maintaining a sterile and hospitable growing environment, and eventually harvesting and delivering the mushrooms to hungry customers. You may ask how does a person become a mushroom farmer and hobby mycologist. Like many great pursuits, Noah’s came by word of mouth. “Actually, when I was working at [a] coffee shop, there was this guy who would come in and get our spent coffee grounds, and he said he was growing mushrooms.” Many people would react with suspicion and so did Noah: “I said, dude, keep your voice down.” The mysterious mushroom man wasn’t growing illicit mushrooms, though. This would be the first time the then full-time barista would hear exotic names like King Oyster and Lion’s Mane. “I had never heard of them before,” Noah said. “It gave me someone to talk to about it, someone who was already doing it.” Just like that Noah had a mycology mentor, a wise experienced master to hand down the ways of the mushroom.
After two years of experimenting and countless taste tests, Noah and John’s hard work has come to fruition. Together they have grown a cult following and have decided to open the door to a new venture, Harmony Mushroom Company. Joining only a few other small mushroom cultivators in the state of Florida, they will offer a selection of culinary and nutritional supplement mushroom varieties. Rarely seen mushrooms like Pink Oyster, Blue Oyster, King Oyster, Reishi and Lion’s Mane are among what is available.
“When people told me they taste like lobster, I said, ‘Yeah, right, okay’” Noah said of the Pink Oyster mushrooms, but they actually do. Once only found in high end restaurants in big cities and sold by exclusive distributors, these uncommon culinary treats will be grown and available right here in Jacksonville. Not only providing ingredients for amazing meals, Harmony Mushroom Company will be making accessible a few varieties typically only found in specialty health stores as well. The health benefits of Lion’s Mane and Reishi are only currently being explored by medical science and have exploded in popularity since the release of the 2019 documentary Fantastic Fungi. John and Noah intend to put out a product that is good for you and your taste buds, but they aren’t stopping there. They want to make sure Mother Earth is taken care of too.
Sustainability is a core idea for Harmony Mushroom Company founders John and Noah. Every step of the process, the environment and eliminating waste are important goals. From the used growing blocks being composted right away to the amount of energy used in production, everything they do is in an effort to leave Earth better than they found it. Just like the mushrooms themselves, John and Noah are seeking to be in harmony with nature. “That’s a cool thing about the mushroom stuff is anyone can become a scientist, and you see those compost piles out there, they’re basically experiments and that’s something that anybody can do”.