This article was generously sponsored by the Aztlán Journalism Fund — gracias, anonymous donor!
Cool air flows past Mark Lunetto as he skillfully scalpels across the flesh of a fruiting body. He then carefully transfers the freshly cut tissue to a sterilized, nutrient-rich agar plate.
Another clone complete.
He’s growing mushrooms, implementing a cultivation process that usually takes about 3-4 weeks until fruiting. Once he’s done, Mark and his brother Joseph scrub down everything with the care and concern of a decontamination chamber.
“We feel like mad scientists,” said Lunetto from the custom-built mushroom cultivation room inside of Joseph’s detached garage in SanTana. “All it takes is some kind of competitor mold that can out grow your mushrooms and you have all kinds of problems.”
The two produce oyster mushrooms that they harvest and sell at the Orange Home Grown Farmers Market in Orange County as the Fungus Brothers.
They offer striking, beautiful bouquets as vibrant in color as they are in taste –– hues that range from grey to blue, pink and yellow and that have a delicate texture and mild, savory flavor. The oyster ‘shrooms are the star of a flavorful array of gourmet edible mushrooms the Lunettos grow: shiitake, beech, turkey tail, and lion’s mane, as well as medicinal tinctures and powders.
“They are always missed when they run out of mushrooms and can’t make a market, ” says Megan Penn, Orange Home Grown co-founder and executive director. “When Mark and Joe are done growing with their mushroom logs, they donate what’s leftover to our OHG Education Farm, so we can use the logs in our compost program. They truly have become such a special part of what the market has to offer.”
Mark says their journey with mushrooms started in early 2017 when a mutual friend gifted his brother a table-top mushroom grow kit. “It began as a hobby,” said the 47-year-old. “But then my brother and I went down a YouTube rabbit hole about mushrooms and the different kinds you can grow.”
Eventually, with more mushrooms than they knew what to do with, someone suggested they start selling at the Orange Farmers market. In October of 2018, they started every other week, but the demand — and their growing skills — saw them switch to every Saturday.
The Lunetto brothers’ goal is to grow and sell mushrooms in a sustainable way, in addition to making mushroom cultivation accessible to everyone with mushroom grain spawn grow bags that they sell on their website.
They try to be as mindful of waste as possible. Oyster mushrooms grow on pasteurized straw used for multiple fruitings; what’s left goes to anyone who wants to amend their gardens with spent mushroom substrate. The material is excellent to spread on top of newly seeded lawns, adding organic matter and nutrients to the soil. Mark is also working on recycling logs that can be used for portobello mushrooms and crimini mushrooms because those are secondary decomposers.
He’s exploring ways to grow mushrooms on their already spent logs and get a whole other run out of their garbage. “You can grow mushrooms in all kinds of total waste products. There’s this whole movement happening with mycoremediation, which is fungi-based technology used to decontaminate the environment –– break down plastic, oil and decompose trash. It’s really cool.”
The brothers recently acquired a warehouse in an industrial part of SanTana to amp up production, where they plan to get more into mushroom spawn and tissue culturing along with cultivation. “We both have full-time jobs outside of this but we’re trying to figure out how to transition into it more and shorten our hours at our other jobs,” Mark said. “Or maybe take the big leap and just completely switch over.”
He said that although people are making oyster mushrooms more popular than ever before, there’s still a disconnect.
“I get the same questions every week, “‘What the hell is this and do you sell psychedelic mushrooms?” Lunneto said. “I want to change that by educating people and getting them excited about mushrooms. Connecting them to good food that they can put in their mouth that day.
Then came the obvious conclusion: “ I’m going to start a mushroom cult.”