Mushroom Talk with Morgan: Growing Mycelium and Fruitbodies
Morgan Wolff is Director of Farm Operations at Fungi Perfecti®. He has a Bachelor of Science degree from the Evergreen State College and is currently a Sustainable MBA candidate at Presidio Graduate School. Morgan also runs a sustainable farm with his wife, Laurel, outside Olympia, Washington where they grow a variety of produce and raise pigs, sheep and chickens. With more than 12 years of experience in commercial mushroom production, Morgan brings a holistic systems approach to his work and provides our team with extensive leadership and expertise.
We sat down with Morgan to talk about our production process and some of the key elements of growing high quality mushroom mycelium and fruibodies.
Tell us a little more about your history at the company and how your role has changed over the years.
At the Evergreen State College, I completely fell in love with fungal biology. Taking part in Evergreen’s Fungal Kingdom program, I learned a lot about taxonomy and tissue culture, as well as mushroom cultivation. I also became an avid wild mushroom forager. I just knew this was something I was passionate about and wanted to continue to explore after graduation.
After graduation, I was hired at Fungi Perfecti on the Production crew—at that time, we had 20 total employees. After being here 12 years, we’re now at over 120. I started off growing mushroom mycelium and fruitbodies. Eventually, I transitioned to managing the Production crew and worked through a period of rapid expansion and oversaw improved consistency and quality of our production. Now as Director of Farm Operations, I oversee interdepartmental communication with the various teams located at our farm facility, including Cultivation, Extract Production, and Facilities & Maintenance. I also work closely with our Research and Quality Assurance teams.
How do you and your team ensure the highest quality measures throughout the mushroom mycelium and fruitbody production process?
Our team has developed a rigorous and controlled process that has consistently produced high quality mushroom mycelium and fruitbodies. We have a thoroughly documented protocol that assures quality and consistency at every step of the process.
It starts with our strain selection. Our culture library contains thousands of mushroom strains that have been carefully preserved and curated over the years. Our Research team is constantly testing new strains to allow us to select the strains that produce the best possible product. Our growth medium comes next. We use certified organic brown rice grown in California, and our Quality Assurance team tests every batch to ensure it is of the highest quality.
We use high pressure steam vessels to sterilize our substrates and eliminate any potential contaminants. Our inoculation process is done under strictly sterile conditions that further eliminate the possibility of contamination. We have continued to innovate and improve our inoculation process which has led to improved consistency and quality.
At harvest time, each batch is thoroughly inspected and must meet our rigorous quality standards before being selected for further processing. Additionally, our team has developed a novel method for quantitatively measuring fungal growth and each batch must meet a standard using this metric. We pair this method with work done by our Research team to determine the optimum time to harvest.
Our Quality Assurance team then coordinates in-depth third party testing of every batch to assure that all of our targets have been met.
How long does a full production cycle take?
A full production cycle takes between two weeks and two months. We grow 17 different species, and each of these species has a different period of incubation to hit our target metrics for beneficial compound production.
Your team has recently implemented some improvements at the farm. Can you explain those improvements and what the early results have been?
Over the past several years, we've made significant equipment upgrades and enhancements throughout our entire mushroom mycelium and fruitbody production process.
Employee safety was a top priority throughout the project. As with any agricultural process, our production requires repetitive manual labor. We worked diligently to identify potential safety concerns and worked to redesign our process in order to improve safety. By automating certain parts of our process we have greatly reduced the risk of injury as well as increasing our throughput.
Through these upgrades, we've vastly improved the consistency of every batch. Now every bag of mycelium in every batch is more consistent. And that's led to less rejected bags and overall less waste while simultaneously increasing our production capacity.
You’ve mentioned that you collaborate with the company’s research efforts—How do you interface with the Research team?
Paul Stamets created Fungi Perfecti and Host Defense Mushrooms with a mission to fund research involving fungi, and I’ve seen this as an integral part of the company’s work during my tenure here. As we've continued to grow, we've been able to formalize our research efforts, and this has led to greater capabilities for confirming and improving the efficacy of our products.
In the early days, I worked with Renee Davis, our Research & Development Director, to help establish the Research team. Now we have a thriving department with lots of expertise and people dedicated to research projects, which has been just excellent.
I continue to work hand-in-hand both with Renee and the Research team to continue to improve our products, both through in-house analysis and further testing to improve growing techniques and better define and improve our growing parameters—all with a mind towards improving the efficacy of our products.
Ideally, what qualities are you looking to achieve in every grow?
Our goal with every batch that we grow is to create the most effective product possible. We achieve this goal through multiple forms of analysis that we have developed and implemented. The Production crew works closely with the Research team to identify and implement quality metrics, target ideal incubation periods, and generate the highest possible quality of mycelium.
As you look forward, what excites you most about your work?
Looking forward, I am most excited about our continued opportunities for expansion, as well as continuing to provide leadership in our industry with a focus on sustainability, the health of the planet, as well as issues around social and racial justice.
We're at the beginning stages of understanding the true power of mushroom mycelium, and I'm excited to continue to explore with our team. it's just a pleasure to work with such passionate, intelligent people.