Edible wild mushrooms are a culinary treasure, but it takes training to know which are safe to eat if you happen to find some on a forest floor. Some grocery stores sell several varieties of ‘shrooms other than buttons, but they are expensive and may have been sitting on the shelf awhile.
That’s why it has been exciting to find local growers offering their crops of unusual fungi at farmers’ markets. I’ve talked before about Megan’s Mushrooms, a great vendor of nutritious, earthy-flavored mushrooms fresh off the farm in Rocky Ford. (Visit megansmushrooms.com to order her products and find farmers markets where she’ll be set up.)
Today I want to introduce you to a second grower, Patru Dumitru, who grows wild mushrooms and micro-greens in a 2,000-square-foot indoor farm near downtown Colorado Springs. His company, Microvora, was born in 2014 from a school project that didn’t involve mushrooms.
“It was from an idea that a classmate and I had for a marketing project at UCCS,” he said. “We wanted to empower people to grow their own food wherever they may be, utilizing a compact, efficient and affordable growing system.”
By the summer of 2015, he had designed HerbaHammock, his hydroponic unit, which could grow 30 heads of lettuce a month.
“People could grow enough food to feed themselves, give some to neighbors and friends, or sell it,” he said.
However, he tabled the project after a couple of years because he needed to refine the units and it was going to take a sizable investment to get them professionally manufactured. But his passion for finding a sustainable food system pushed him to start experimenting with micro-greens, with the goal of selling them to chefs.
“I took over half of my parents’ garage to set up micro-greens production,” he said. “This aligned with my view of providing healthy, locally grown produce to people and gave me a more immediate revenue stream.”
His micro-greens caught on, and he expanded his production area to the other half of the garage. He also came up with another idea.
“As I built my business by selling micro- greens to chefs, they talked about wild mushrooms and how scarce they are,” he said. “I got interested in growing different varieties of mushrooms because of that and because of their health benefits.”
Dumitru thought about setting up a “mushroom room” in his parents’ attic. Fortunately for them, he found a big warehouse instead, in 2018, where he could expand his baby greens production and develop the mushroom business.
Before COVID-19, he was growing about 400 pounds of mushrooms weekly, along with 40 pounds of micro-greens.
“I had 36 chefs using the greens and mushrooms,” he said. “I lost most of my customer base when the epidemic hit. Now things are turning around. I have 10 to 16 chefs back, and selling at farmers markets has helped too.”
He grows five types of mushrooms and sells them by the pound: chestnut ($20), king trumpet ($15), lion’s mane ($15), pioppino ($20) and gray oyster ($10). Two pounds of mixed mushrooms is $20. You can order online at microvora.com. Orders are delivered 2 to 6 p.m. Fridays to homes throughout the Pikes Peak region. He also sells his goods at three farmers markets. Visit the website for more details.
Contact the writer: 636-0271.