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How a Mushroom Farm Grows in a Manhattan Restaurant

Though intentionally futuristic in design, the installation is more than aesthetic—it’s a miniature mushroom farm.

By Nina Sparling
Jan. 24, 2018


The mini-farms, also called “fruiting chambers” are largely automated. Sensors and cameras monitor temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide levels, airflow, and light exposure. Carter and DeMartino can keep an eye on any unit from a laptop anywhere. Before the mushrooms are ready for restaurants, they spend between four and six weeks maturing in a warehouse. The mushrooms grow in a substrate made of recycled materials—mostly sawdust mixed with organic matter like wheat berries and coffee grounds.

Every week, Smallhold delivers fresh bags of mushrooms to the restaurants they work with. They mature for a few days, then Carter and DeMartino come by to harvest. Freshness matters a lot for mushrooms, confirms John Pecchia, PhD, a professor of mushroom science at Penn State University. They have a short shelf life; once they’re harvested, the quality depreciates rapidly. “We’re not fighting decomposition because [the mushroom] is still living the entire time. It’s as fresh as possible,” Carter says. Smallhold grows 10 varieties of mushrooms, many of which are unfamiliar to the U.S. market, where the white button still dominates. DeMartino likes the lion’s mane variety best—furry and oblong, it could be mistaken for an oversize hamster. Pink, yellow, and blue oyster mushrooms curl out of the bags, their delicate, bubbly forms like something from Dr. Seuss.

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