Working a nine-to-five in IT wasn’t for Mike Campbell, although he did it for nearly two decades. It was a “final straw” moment, he recalls, that was his tipping point to leaving that career to start something new. “Working in IT – the last thing someone is when they call me is happy,” Campbell says. “One day I was the messenger, bringing horrible news to this little company that was hit with something bad about their computer system that was their life and the money they didn’t have.”
Campbell took the negative experience as his sign and reached out to his longtime friend Daisy Kerne. Together they leveraged each others’ skill set – her outgoing personality and training in horticulture and his knowledge of production processes and the business end of things – to come up with an idea that would gratify them both. ALL CAPS Gourmet Mushrooms was launched, and in just two years, they’ve grown from two mushroom kits to a full-fledged, burgeoning indoor farm.
Their initial research into possible business opportunities led to two compelling discoveries: Louisiana has a deficit of mushroom farms (ones of substantial size, anyway), and the mushroom industry is full of business potential. “Other states have 30, 40, 50 mushroom farms within the state. Pennsylvania has hundreds of farms. Louisiana has three – two before us,” Campbell says.
From these findings, the two Iberia natives knew they wanted to move forward with their gourmet mushroom farm. One problem: they had no money for an initial investment. But entrepreneurs like Kerne and Campbell don’t give up easily, and they found a way to purchase the needed supplies via the most unlikeliest of methods. “He donated his plasma and bought two of those online mushroom kits with the money,” Kerne says with a laugh. “And that’s how we got started.”
At the time they were embarking on their new venture, Kerne and Campbell were also ride-share drivers. As the first batch of mushrooms were just beginning to show, they decided to work an LSU game in Baton Rouge and Voodoo Fest in New Orleans one weekend. “I didn’t want to leave them home unattended, so we’re picking up rides and in my car on the floorboard, mushrooms are starting to sprout,” Campbell says with a chuckle. “Yeah, those were the first mushrooms I grew.”
Visqueen and Variety
Although there are different methods of growing mushrooms, Kerne and Campbell primarily grow theirs indoors in bags. Different types need different conditions to thrive, depending on where they are in the populating or fruiting process, so Campbell framed out an entire room, wrapped it in visqueen, and now adjusts a humidifier and air conditioner to whatever the needs are of his current batch.
ALL CAPS currently has seven active varieties of mushrooms – some with traditional appearance, some that resemble underwater sea creatures, and some that are as beautiful as a bouquet of flowers. In the fall, customers can expect harvests of Black Pearl King, Chestnut, King Trumpet and Lion’s Mane. “Some are more delicate than others, some are super-dense,” says Kerne. “The Pink Oyster is very delicate, so it’s great on pizza or sauteed with chicken or pasta. Later in the winter, we’ll have King Trumpet. You can shred it to substitute for pulled pork.”
Every Saturday, the duo can be found selling their harvest at Lafayette Farmers Market – rain or shine. “We’ll be there no matter what, because the mushrooms don’t care what the weather looks like,” Kerne says with a smile. “They fruit whenever they want.”
The Business of Growth
As head of production for ALL CAPS, Campbell initially swore he’d never attend Market, leaving it up to Kerne, as head of sales, to do the public-facing work. But he quickly discovered he loves to share with people how he grows his mushrooms and enjoys the teaching aspect of his newfound vocation – a trait that seems to be common in the mushroom farming industry. In October, Kerne and Campbell attended a mentorship function at a company in Knoxville that’s about two years ahead of them in the business. “We’re kind of paralleling what they already did,” Campbell says. “They went from a basement, maybe 200 to 500 square feet, to a 10,000-square-foot warehouse.” Now the entrepreneurs find themselves helping others just starting out. “We know lots of ways NOT to grow mushrooms,” he says. Kerne agrees, adding that the learning process is continual and ongoing. “We’ll always be learning, because each mushroom needs its own specific something for the best yield,” she says.
Now that their business is booming, the partners have their eye on expanding into new warehouse space. The challenge, they say, is finding just the right size space with just the right temperature controls. In addition to their fresh gourmet mushrooms, they also offer delicious, seasoned mushroom jerkys and a Lion’s Mane tincture (concentrated herbal extract), which is a supplement known for its cognitive benefits. There are several other products in the works.
Visit Kerne and Campbell every Saturday at Lafayette Farmers Market or visit them online at facebook.com/ allcapsgourmetmushrooms.
Another way to grow mushrooms is from logs that have been “plugged” with psyllium. It takes 18 months to fruit, because it colonizes completely inside the log first, then bursts with mushrooms. If a log doesn’t fruit, beat it with a shovel to simulate a tree falling. “When the wood cracks, it oxygenates the psyllium and serves as a trigger,” Kearne says.