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Sudbury Accent: An uncommon love for mushrooms


[Release date]2019-01-21
[Core hints]Ivan Vincent and his partner have an uncommon love for mushrooms.The two recently launched the Ugly Barn Farm, down a me
 
Ivan Vincent and his partner have an uncommon love for mushrooms.
 
The two recently launched the Ugly Barn Farm, down a meandering country road in Markstay.
 
There really is a lopsided, decrepit barn on site, but the mushroom magic happens in a state-of-the-art building that houses storage rooms, labs, incubators, a prep room and hot rooms where the mushrooms flourish. The air in the building is HEPA-filtered.
 
“Oh god no, no, no I’m not using that thing,” Vincent laughs of the barn. “Mushrooms are super finicky. If you have dust, they won’t grow because dust carries spores and mould. If I was using the ugly barn I’d be incredibly unsuccessful.”
 
Vincent is well-suited to his new role as farmer. He has been tinkering with mushrooms – as a hobbyist – since college, and is an environmental technician with a background in science.
 
“Why not mushrooms,” he says.
 
They really are a rare commodity. While there are several people growing produce around Sudbury and organizing community-supported agriculture programs, this was a unique way for Vincent to enter the agricultural sector.
 
“I just happen to have the experience to do it and I just decided to go for it,” he says. “I was working in a job I didn’t really appreciate. But I’ll tell you, when you start your own business you tend to appreciate what it was.”
 
Vincent says they got a “really generous grant” from the Northern ontario Heritage Fund Corporation. They also invested some of their own money and took out a loan. In total for labour, materials, equipment and the building, it cost the couple $167,000 to get up and running, even though in retrospect, he sees where he could have been more efficient and cost-effective.
 
They have been in business for about a year – and have learned a lot of hard lessons, he says – but he admits the summer was especially challenging because of the heat.
 
“You have to be meticulous in the lab and you have to put a lot of thought into designing the place you want to grow in,” Vincent says. “Mistakes are costly.”
 
They are serious about bringing mushrooms to the tables of northerners. Currently, the Ugly Barn Farm sells 14 kinds of mushrooms – as tea, dried and fresh mushrooms, as well as (very popular) grow-your-own-mushroom kits. They were selling their wares at the Sudbury Winter Market, which took place last fall at Southridge Mall. Vincent says business was brisk, and the oyster and shiitake mushrooms (at $16 per pound) proved to be especially popular.
 
They also sold mushrooms at the summer market, and to a few places around town. Currently, The Laughing Buddha on Elgin Street is using Ugly Barn mushrooms, but Vincent says there has been interest from Verdicchio’s, as well as Metro supermarkets.
 
“Some of our medicinal mushrooms are anti-diabetes, anti-bacterial, anti-viral,” he says.
 
Some of the mushrooms Vincent is growing have been studied for their therapeutic properties in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
 
“With some good results,” he says.
 
Vincent also harvests mushrooms, including chaga, from the woods.
 
“You can’t grow chaga,” he says. “It’s kind of an unsustainable one to harvest also, because the sclerotia takes 10 years to grow before it comes out of the tree. “¦ The best way to harvest chaga is in small amounts over a vast period, or if you have connections with the lumber industry.”
 
Vincent says the Ugly Barn aims to be carbon neutral. They heat with wood rather than fossil fuels, but he admits he goes through a lot of industry-standard plastic bags.
 
There is one room in the building that looks more like a science lab than a farm. It includes ventilation hoods, petri dishes and syringes. It is where the magic happens.
 
Growing mushrooms for sale is laborious and Vincent takes many precautions to avoid contaminating his crop. They begin their growth cycle on a petri dish and are then transferred to clear plastic bags, where they take on their fungal appearance. From there, the mushrooms are divided into 10 segments and each is transferred to a second bag.
 
“(The growth cycle) is a minimum six weeks, but I like to go a little longer,” he says. “By the end of it you get a higher yield and just a better looking mushroom, if you let it go.”
 
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