Utah Man Grows Success At His Own Mushroom Farm

Jun 20, 2021, 10:57 PM | Updated: Jun 21, 2021, 12:26 am

OGDEN, Utah — When you think of a farm, fields and tractors are generally what come to mind, but Adam Wong is running a different type of operation. His crops don’t grow in the ground — they spring forth from sawdust.

“This is like the seed, basically,” Wong said, while holding out a petri dish. “So this is what we plant into the sterilized substrate.”

Everything at Wong’s farm, Intermountain Gourmet Mushrooms, grows in humidified boxes. Wong built them himself, using pieces intended to construct walk-in refrigerators.

“You can judge that it’s done by looking for the caps to kind of pop open,” he said, showing what looked like a cube of dirt with mushrooms poking out of it.

He often refers to the sawdust his mushrooms consume for food as “substrate,” likening it to mushrooms in the wild that you may find on a log.

Wong’s been at this for the past seven years, after graduating from business school, and pursuing a different kind of venture.

“Uhh…hemp clothing, actually,” he said with a laugh.

Wong admitted he was hardly an expert in the realm of fungus, and was limited in the ways he could learn.

“There’s no mushroom school,” he said  “So it’s YouTube videos you can find and there’s some mushroom cultivation books. The mushroom industry’s evolving pretty quickly, so something that was printed on how to do something five years ago is not how people are doing it commercially today.”

He has dealt with more than his share of failures: small crops, failed crops, contaminated crops. But the businessman in him saw a demand, mainly from restaurants that had been importing their gourmet mushrooms.

“A lot of them are Chinese mushrooms that are being imported,” Wong said. “And there’s farms in California or Pennsylvania, those are kind of the two bigger hubs.”

Adam Wong harvests a crop at his business, Intermountain Gourmet Mushrooms. (Ray Boone/KSL TV) Mushrooms growing inside one of Wong's climate-controlled rooms. (Ray Boone/KSL TV) Wong uses scissors to cut mushrooms off of the substrate. (Ray Boone/KSL TV) Wong built the rooms he uses to grow his mushrooms using parts from walk-in refrigerators. (Ray Boone/KSL TV) Wong sticks a label on a box of mushrooms heading to Harmon's. (Ray Boone/KSL TV)

He started selling his mushrooms at local farmer’s markets, trying to make connections with chefs out shopping for ingredients —but getting into groceries was his biggest goal.

“Right when I started this, I approached Harmon’s, and they were interested, but I wasn’t able to scale to their needs,” Wong said.

The problem was consistency. Wong could turn a seed into a toadstool, but failure seemed to grow under every log.

“Only growing one organism and not having any other competing organisms when contamination’s all around,” he said.

He changed the food, altered his sterilization and refined his technique.

Not too long ago, he finally achieved the stability he’d been seeking — you can often find him slapping plastic and labels on little boxes of mushrooms, preparing them for his biggest single customer.

“We got into groceries, so we’re in all the Harmon’s locations,” Wong said.

He may not be the country’s biggest mushroom mogul, but through a little bit of trial and a whole lot of error, his spores of success continue to spread.

“Having a good crop, when something was failing and figuring that out and having that success in the future,” he said.

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Utah Man Grows Success At His Own Mushroom Farm