One of West Center’s success stories is The Forest People, a mushroom cultivation business located in Anderson Valley. Owned by Lama Nasser-Gammett and her husband Matthew, they work together to grow oyster mushrooms that are both delicious and healthy.
Their decision to specialize in this agricultural niche was based on their exploration into ways of growing large quantities of food in small areas that could feed a growing population. Lama had become fascinated by mycelium and its ability to connect and act as an underground forest information highway. This led to their first foray into cultivation, which was to order some mushroom kits and start growing lion’s mane and oyster mushrooms in a backyard mushroom house. While these were successful, they soon realized that they could build their own kits and create a viable wholesale business: The Forest People.
Lama and Matthew have now been growing mushrooms for about 10 years. While their mushroom growth rates can fluctuate, they can produce about 100 lbs of mushrooms per week in a small space of about 400 square feet. As Lama says, “Mushrooms require far less water than traditional farming. They are also high in protein and have a lot of medicinal benefits.”
Mushroom growing starts with organic rice straw that they source from the Central Valley. The first step is to break down the straw into smaller pieces so it’s easier for the mycelium to access it and so it can fit into a “straw log.” The straw is then pasteurized in hot water to clean it. Once it’s sat for about an hour, the straw is drained and packed into vertical “logs” in which they cut holes for the mushrooms to pop out. They inoculate the straw logs with mycelium and hang them in the mushroom house. After about a month, mushrooms start to fruit on the sides of the logs. The time between first fruit and harvest is just a matter of days.
The mushrooms are harvested every day, as they grow very rapidly, and refrigerated until Lama heads to the local farmers market or delivers a wholesale order. Generally, the logs fruit three times before being composted.
Lama had never seen herself as an entrepreneur until she entered the StartUp Mendocino pitch competition in 2019. The experience was invaluable: “It was during the bootcamp classes that I really found the meaning of being an entrepreneur. Being part of the program was both fun and very satisfying. I was one of the contestants in the pitch competition and was the grand prize winner.”
She says that working with West Center has been great. “When we first started developing our business, I found out about West Center through a colleague. I contacted them and they’ve been so helpful, from setting out our business plan to figure out what we needed … to marketing and advertising.” When asked if she would recommend West Center, Lama responded, “I recommend West Center to every business owner I meet. I let them know they are there to help with all aspects of business development and that their services are totally free.”
For Lama and Matthew, “radically sustainable mushroom cultivation” is here to stay. “We all know we’re headed to the proverbial cliff with climate change but there’s lots we can do. Research shows there are many different paths we can take to reduce our carbon footprint and slow down climate change. One of those things has been identified as less meat consumption and oyster mushrooms, being high in protein, can replace meat in any of your meals.”
Recently, The Forest People has expanded their operations to include sprouts and wheat grass. You can find Lama most Saturdays at the Ukiah Farmers Market!