Interview with Heather Ralston, 100th Monkey Mushroom Farm

Sarah Velasco: Can you tell readers about yourself? How did you get started in the business?
Heather Ralston: After more than 15 years each teaching in public and private schools, we (Heather Ralston and Jimm Stack, a husband and wife team) wanted to combine our passion for growing mushrooms with our love of teaching. We saw the tremendous amount of interest people had in wanting to grow their own mushrooms and the lack of understanding about how to do so. So, we created 100th Monkey Mushroom Farm to be “teaching mushroom farmers”, so to speak. We specialize in teaching people, from the novice to the experienced, how to grow mushrooms sustainably so everyone can have access to the incredible health benefits (both medicinal and nutritional) of gourmet mushrooms.

Sarah Velasco: What is your average day like? What does your job entail?
Heather Ralston: Jimm is the principal mushroom grower who oversees the production of our mushroom kit products, ones that will eventually blossom gourmet mushrooms in in someone’s kitchen, yard or garden in some part of the country. Jimm is continually experimenting with different strains of mushrooms and different growing substrates so we can expand our product line to accommodate more people (such as the recent addition of the Aspen Oyster and Phoenix Oyster Mushroom Log Kit, which will grow mushrooms on aspens, cottonwoods, and some pine trees). Since education is our priority and focus, we spent a great deal of time making free educational videos for people (which we post on our YouTube channel) and creating informative blogs. Heather is the principal business manager; her days are packed with marketing, sales, accounting, managing our online store, etc. Both Heather and Jimm work together on product development. 

Sarah Velasco: Can you tell us about 100th Monkey Mushrooms? 
Heather Ralston: Because buying gourmet mushrooms on a regular basis is cost prohibitive for many people, we developed grow-your-own kits to make gourmet mushrooms accessible and affordable for everyone. As an added benefit, growing mushrooms is fun and informative, and our customers quickly become as enthusiastic about mushrooms as we are! 

Sarah Velasco: How did the name come about? 
Heather Ralston: 100th Monkey refers to a widespread change in behavior. According to the legend, once the 100th monkey masters a new behavior, the behavior spreads rapidly throughout the population. By making the knowledge of growing these superfoods accessible, we are creating the 100th monkey.

Sarah Velasco: By creating 100th Monkey Mushrooms, what is your mission? 
Heather Ralston: Our mission is to create a large-scale awareness of sustainable growing techniques, the extraordinary health benefits of mushrooms, and the increasing role fungi play in the healing of our ecosystem.

Sarah Velasco: Can you tell readers a few things they may not know about mushrooms? 
Heather Ralston: Although mushrooms are nutritious from a conventional point of view (i.e. high in protein, high in many vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B, D, and riboflavin, contains no fat or cholesterol, and contains very few calories), this is not their most beneficial role in human health. There are now thousands of studies attesting to the dramatic effect mushrooms have on the human immune system. For example, the turkey tail mushroom (Trametes versicolor) is known for its strong antiviral, antimicrobial and antitumor properties. These properties are attributed to two polysaccharides, PSK and PSP. The Japanese government approved the use of PSK for treating several types of cancer and is currently used along with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Another gourmet edible mushroom commonly known as Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceous) has also shown to be effective at neural regeneration. (See some of our blogs for some additional research on mushrooms… or I can send you some more articles, if you want).

Sarah Velasco: Are there common misconceptions about mushrooms?
Heather Ralston: Compared to other parts of the world such as Asia and Europe, Americans have a high rate of mycophobia (fear of mushrooms). Yes, there are some very toxic mushrooms, but other cultures haven’t seen this as a reason to not consume mushrooms. They just learn to identify mushrooms instead. They have viewed mushrooms as a highly beneficial (for good reason) addition to their diets and have passed on the traditions of mushroom hunting and identification for many generations. Much of this has been lost in our culture. Also, from an aesthetic point of view, mushrooms growing in the front lawn are often seen as ugly and undesirable when in fact they are an indicator of microbial health and the essential decomposition of organic matter. The most significant misconception, however, is that mushrooms are “filler” food. People are just starting to become aware of the power medicinal benefits of mushrooms and are realizing the importance of including mushrooms as a regular part of a healthy diet. We are working on a book that compiles all of the peer-reviewed research worldwide done on the medicinal effects (and the biochemical mechanisms responsible for these effects) of gourmet mushrooms, and the results are astounding.

Sarah Velasco: What types of mushrooms can you grow? 
Heather Ralston: We offer a variety of what are called saprophytic mushrooms (found in nature growing only on dead wood). The saprophytes, in particular, seem to be highly medicinal. We offer kits to grow shiitake, lion’s mane, reishi, turkey tail, elm oyster, blue oyster, aspen oyster, and phoenix fir oyster—and we have more varieties on the way!

Sarah Velasco: How do you grow your own mushrooms? Does different care need to be done for the different types? 
Heather Ralston: We created a product line that allows the customer to affordably grow gourmet mushrooms at home, in the city or in the country, indoors and outdoors, and year-round! We have three types of products that we sell in stores: Mushroom Garden Kit, Mushroom Log Kit, and Mushroom Box Kit. On our online store, customers can also purchase Shiitake or Reishi Mushroom Blocks (bigger versions of Mushroom Box Kits, and without the box).

Our indoor/outdoor Mushroom Garden Kit rapidly produces gourmet oyster mushrooms when mixed with pasteurized straw, sawdust, coffee grounds, and 200 other substrates. The mushrooms can be harvested year-round and they can be grown anywhere: in pots on an apartment patio, in a garden bed, or inside the house in baskets or burlap bags. One Mushroom Garden Kit will inoculate 5 gallons of substrate, producing 2-3 lbs. of mushrooms on the first flush… but here’s the cool part: after the first round of mushrooms have been harvested from, for instance, a 5-gallon bucket of substrate, this substrate is now colonized and can potentially be used to inoculate (or plant) FIVE more 5-gallon buckets of substrate! This can be done twice, maybe three times, before the mycelium weakens and doesn’t produce any more mushrooms, but if a person were to even get two rounds out of their kit, that is equivalent to 10-15 lbs. of gourmet mushrooms from ONE kit! This is exactly what we mean when we say that we are trying to make such a healthy superfood accessible and affordable to everyone (as we know, purchasing organic gourmet mushrooms at a store is too cost prohibitive for most people to do on a regular basis). 

Our outdoor shiitake Mushroom Log Kit makes it possible to grow the world’s most popular mushroom simply by inserting a mycelium-covered plug into a hardwood log. While these mushrooms take longer to colonize than the straw kits, they can produce coveted shiitake mushrooms for years. We also offer Lion’s Mane, Reishi, Turkey Tail, Elm Oyster, Blue Oyster, Aspen Oyster and Phoenix Fir Oyster species in the Mushroom Log Kit.

Finally, our ready-made indoor Mushroom Box Kit is easy and convenient. With a little daily misting, the delicious elm oyster mushrooms are ready to harvest in as little as one week.

Sarah Velasco: What are gourmet and organic mushrooms? 
Heather Ralston: Gourmet is a class of mushrooms of high quality, special presentation, or high sophistication, but are most notable for their intense and distinct flavor. Organic mushrooms utilize mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers are not allowed. 

Note: Why Eat Gourmet Mushrooms? See http://www.100thmonkeymushrooms.com/health-2/why-gourmet-mushrooms/ 

Note: Why Eat Organically Grown? See http://www.100thmonkeymushrooms.com/health-2/why-grow-organic-mushrooms/ 

Sarah Velasco: How long do these mushroom kits last? 
Heather Ralston: The life of the mushroom kit depends foremost on the type of kit. The Box Kit with produce 2-3 cycles of mushrooms before the energy is expended. (However, on our YouTube channel we have video tutorials that show how the lives of the kits can be extended by being used to inoculate another substrate.) The Log Kits can produce for multiples years from the dense hardwood logs. A properly cared for Garden Kit on woodchips can be kept productive for multiple seasons also if replenished with fresh chips each year.

Sarah Velasco: Where can we purchase 100th Monkey Mushroom products?
Heather Ralston: All of our products are available online at www.100thMonkeyMushrooms.com and we are rapidly expanding into retail stores throughout the nation.

Sarah Velasco: Anything else readers should know? 
Heather Ralston: The use of mushrooms as a food source is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential benefits of fungal kingdom. The field of mycology is exploding with findings, such as the mycoremediation techniques involving the use of mushroom mycelium (roots) to mitigate toxins in soils (heavy metals and petroleum) or to filter water contaminated with harmful toxins like Ecoli. Also, 90% of all plants have a symbiotic relationship with a fungal species in their root zone, which promote nutrient and water uptake to the plant or tree and help prevent disease. Farmers are now beginning to plant their crops with mycorrhizal fungi spores to organically increase crop yield.
We also want the readers to become aware of the tremendous health benefits of gourmet mushrooms- not just nutritionally but more importantly, medicinally. Interested readers can find valuable information about the health-promoting properties of mushrooms on our site and on our blog (look under HEALTH or BLOG). This fall, we will coming out with a book that compiles all of the peer-reviewed research about the medicinal properties of gourmet mushrooms conducted worldwide within the last three years- so stay tuned!