Renaissance Horticulture

Scott Lyons’ take on urban agriculture is a 6,000-square-foot warehouse mushroom farm in Oakland Park. And he’s found another way to differentiate his concept – combining his love for the arts with his affinity for fungi.

By: 

Alexandra Roland

Published date: 

Jul. 14, 2014

Scott Lyons is a fan of mushrooms; he’s been cooking and growing them since he was a student at the University of Florida from 2006 to 2009. He’s also into art and has found a way to do both in a conjoining space. (His degree in psychology didn’t make the cut.)

mushrooms5.jpgLyons operates his mushroom farm in an unassuming warehouse bay off Sixth Avenue in Oakland Park, just west of Dixie Highway. Graffiti-like airbrushed murals cover the walls of the foyer, the front desk and the studios next door. Three thousand square feet of studio space, available for artists’ use, is next door, also joined by a large lounge area with a stage and a bar in the back. Lyons hosts monthly Unity 88 events in this space dubbed “The Warehouse,” including Synesthesia, a music and art gathering every first Saturday of the month. The series began on July 5 and incorporated live glass blowing along with the musical performances.

Lyons has occupied the space for two years and has supplied organic compost officially for three, but he really started out in college. His goal was to grow mushrooms with compost specifically suited for the crop. But the cost was high because the material needed to be pasteurized (boiled at high temperatures to eliminate bad bacteria). Instead of buying it, he researched local materials and made his own. “I kept adding and changing different things,” he says. Eventually he found a suitable composition that he went on to sell.

Growing mushrooms for public consumption came later though. After his composting business took off, he began selling mushrooms to local restaurants and eventually moved from an 800-square-foot warehouse to the 6,000-square-foot one he is in now (9,000 square feet including the studios next door).

Reishi, agar, coconut coir – these are some of the technical terms he spits out as if he were talking about how to build a rocket ship. Mushroom farming, though, isn’t necessarily rocket science.

Lyons begins by growing cultures. He takes small pieces of mushroom and places them on gelatinized agar in petri dishes kept in sanitized conditions. After cutting out a section of the growing mycelium, he deposits it into a honey-water solution. Injecting about 5ccs of the liquid into bagged organic rye berries prompts the mycelium to colonize, a process done in the dark. Shelves of these rye berries contained in spawn bags or jars sit in the darkness of one of his warehouse rooms, the fungus colonization at different stages. Even in the dark, the sacks hardly look like the bags of coffee-bean-brown rye berries Lyons started out with. They stay in this room for about two weeks.

Meanwhile, the compost material is made in the back of the warehouse. Coconut coir, or carbon rich moisture-retaining substrate, and straw along with organic materials are mixed together and placed in burlap sacks. In another room, three large drums with lids finish off the pasteurization process. Lyons places the compost filled sacks in water, boiling them at 160 degrees. This pasteurization kills the bad bacteria. A mushroom is a fungus and the fewer bacteria it has to compete with its growth, the better.

Lyons takes the pasteurized compost and the colonized rye berry mixture and combines them in large bags. They are moved to one of Lyons’ two fruiting chambers, or walk-in refrigerators.  There are 120 bags in the chamber at any given time and at optimal temperatures of between 58 and 65, one bag will yield between five and six pounds of mushrooms, which sprout through holes in the plastic. The life of one bag is generally no more than one month. Lyons sells 100 pounds of mushrooms a week – mostly to suppliers, restaurants and markets like Marando Farms. The rest he dehydrates.

“There are over 10,000 different kinds of mushrooms,” he says. Sublicious grows between four and six, including shiitake; blue, yellow and pink oyster; and red reishi. The last one is antibacterial, antitumor, antioxidant and serves to reduce blood pressure. Lyons boils it and freezes the water in ice cube form, which he uses in his morning smoothie.

Dehydrated and ground, the mushrooms can function as a rub or a seasoning. A tented fruiting chamber, which Lyons also sells to starting farmers, sits in his store’s front room. The structure creates a sterilized area with optimum conditions for growing plants. The settings are adjustable and attached is a dehumidifier, a pond fogger with an inline fan that adds moisture to the air inside the tent. Lyons designed it, as well as the one that sits in his main fruiting chamber. In the small tent, he has started to grow herbs like basil and oregano, which he intends to add to the mushroom seasonings.

Kombucha, or mushroom tea brewed in darkness, is also made at the farm. Lyons wants to become the supplier for local juice companies and is working with a Miami chef. Kombulicious, naturally, is the brand’s name. He also plans to offer classes on how to brew the tea next door.

An entire shipping container outfit dedicated to shiitake mushrooms, with shelving and LED lights, will soon be in operation. Another 48-foot container out back is on its way to north Florida. A Sublicious expansion is in the works.

“I want to go up the east coast and come back down the west coast,” he says. There are three other mushroom farmers in Florida and Lyons has partnerships with all of them. “There’s no reason to compete. I want to work together.”

He applies a similar philosophy to his Unity 88 venture – letting artists in to teach their craft at a minimal cost.  He hopes to have something going on every weekend.

“The more like-minded people you have,” he says, “the bigger change you can make.”

Sublicious Farms is located at 4030 NE Sixth Avenue in Oakland Park. For more information, visit subfarms.com. The next Unity 88 event is the Glow Yoga Social with Cristal on July 27. Awa Na Kava will sell kava products. Visit unity88.org for details.