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Kaslo’s Mushroom Man pitches pilot project to council

Robin Mercy was given the okay to “inoculate” (as planting mushrooms is called) logs along Kaslo’s Wardner Trail by council last month. He says the pilot project is a test of principles of both forestry and farming.

A Kaslo area farmer has been given permission to plant mushrooms along a local trail as an unusual experiment in community gardening.

Robin Mercy was given the okay to “inoculate” (as planting mushrooms is called) logs along Kaslo’s Wardner Trail by council last month. He says the pilot project is a test of principles of both forestry and farming.

“I spent over a decade in forestry, and through that experience I have been dying to bring my career paths a little more together,” he says. “I’ve been thinking of multi-use forests in general, and ways we can take the idea of alternative revenue streams in the forestry industry, instead of just moving raw logs to market.

“The idea is take some wood that’s low-value or hard-to-access. Maybe we can fruit some mushrooms off it and get a food crop as well, if it’s not going to be used for anything else.”

Mercy, who has operated Mr. Mercy’s Mushrooms in the North Kootenay Lake region for the last five years, wants to use a section of the Kaslo Community Forest that the Wardner hiking trail runs through as a test project. He’ll inoculate several fallen Douglas fir trees that were selectively cut over the winter to address fir beetle damage.

Mercy plans to inject some of these freshly fallen stumps with fungus from the edible Phoenix Oyster, pleurotus Pulmonarius. It is a reasonably common mushroom with no look-alike poisonous dopplegangers, he says.“We’re trying to see if we can grow mushrooms in a very low-tech, outdoor environment, and measure a few different outcomes,” Mercy told the Valley Voice. “These are all mushrooms you can find growing just sprouting from logs in a natural environment.”

He’ll then compare the crop he gets with a control area, to assess the potential for “significant production of an edible mushroom on waste wood, without regular watering or other maintenance.” He’ll also see if the mushrooms help speed up decomposition and soil improvement in the test area.

Mercer is working with Selkirk College’s Environmental Technology branch in setting up the experimental ‘farm.’ Depending on the timing, college students may be available to help inoculate the stumps and logs. Mercer will supply the spawn (think mushroom “seeds”) for the starters.

“I believe that projects like this could be valuable in starting to develop plans for mixed-use forestry operations, and could also address food security issues in the longer term,” he wrote to council. “It could also be a good opportunity for Village residents and tourists alike to observe a unique food-growing process trail-side on a popular hike.”

But at the beginning, it will be rather small scale, and not a free-standing wild mushroom store on the edge of town.

“I don’t want to get ahead of myself. It’s going to be pretty limited. We’re probably thinking of doing a dozen stumps or so, so I’m not expecting a huge yield,” he says. “It’s mostly for research purposes, seeing how this works… 

“Although they take a while to get going, potentially they can perennialize, and come back year to year, until the nutrients in the wood are used up and it’s beginning to rot,” he says. 

Mercy noted that his business will not benefit monetarily from this project or have any claim over any mushrooms produced as part of this trial.

“For me it would just be some interesting research to conduct close to home and would give me experience to potentially pitch projects like this again in the future on a larger scale,” he said.

Council gave the go-ahead for the project to proceed. They also asked staff to ask Mercy to install signage along the pilot project route to explain to hikers what is going on at the site.

If you want to find out more about Mercy’s company, visit mrmercysmushrooms.com.