Robin Mercy is the owner of Mr. Mercy’s Mushrooms. He lives and farms in Kaslo, BC with his partner Tamara and son Kirin. They produce strains appropriate for the local climate, from blue oysters and enoki in the shoulder seasons to white elms, lion’s mane, and reishi in the hotter months. Considering there is an estimated five million types of fungi, they hope to “stimulate curiosity and appetite in their clientele with an assortment of beautiful and unique gourmet varieties,” going beyond the white button mushroom. They also produce nourishing fungal tinctures with the help of local herbalists.
Robin and Tamara teach workshops and you can find them leading an introduction to MycoPermaculture workshop in April! Read on to learn more about Robin Mercy and Mr. Mercy’s Mushrooms and find them on Facebook and Instagram @mrmercysmushrooms!
What is your current land arrangement? Do you own, lease, rent?
My partner of several years owns the land that I farm, and we both live on the property. This is amazingly convenient. It makes it really easy when your farm is also your home and you can go out and do odd tasks without having a full agenda for the day. At the scale we are producing it also might not work financially if I had to rent land. So, I got lucky…
What do you enjoy about farming in this region?
The people. Even though the West Kootenays aren’t a great place for growing that many things, the support for local producers is amazing. It also seems like a place where many of the young people are interested in growing food, and there’s really a strong community of farmers who help each other out. Plus, for mushroom cultivation I don’t need soil or very warm weather, and I can grow on a tiny plot of land, which makes the setup I have pretty good.
What is your favourite thing to grow and why?
Either Lion’s Mane or Chestnut mushrooms. Lion’s Mane is a very unique looking mushroom with cascading white icicles instead of gills. It’s a great medicinal as well as culinary mushroom and is fascinating to watch grow. Chestnut mushrooms have a beautiful golden brown cap with white scales and a rich, earthy flavour. With lesser known mushrooms like these, I really see the advantage of Farmers Market or direct-to-restaurant sales. I like to be able to talk to customers and chefs, and give them confidence to try something new that they might otherwise shy away from.
Are there any changes to your values, goals or lifestyle that have come with farming?
Absolutely. I think it is grounding me (no pun intended, as I grow mostly in containers) and making me really appreciate the beauty and potential of the small piece of land that I live on. I came to farming in a weird way, through the specialized and pretty nerdy world of mushrooms, but now my areas of interest have expanded. From doing permaculture designs to thinking about livestock and beekeeping to engaging with the community, it’s all part of the same picture. I feel more content now, even though it means working more and having less.
If you weren’t farming, what would you be doing?
I had a decade long forestry job through all of my twenties, doing everything from planting trees to managing contracts. I’m just now stepping back from that to spend more time at home and pursue farming full time, and that was a really hard decision to make. I just got to a place where I needed to devote all my time to one thing to give it the attention it deserves. Work in that industry taught me a lot about hard work and efficiency, as well as specific knowledge about the ecology of the place we call home.
Do you have off farm income?
As I mentioned before, I have been doing pretty regular forestry work in addition to mushroom growing. Depending on how we do this year I may need to look for some local work in the off-season. I’m also teaching music lessons right now.
What are you most excited about for the coming season?
Oh man, so much. Right now we’re getting our organic certification, which will open up some big doors for us. We’re also going to be getting WWOOFers for the first time, and it’ll be really great to have new energy around the place. As well as that I’ve got about eight new strains of mushroom that I’m doing trials on, and me and my partner are co-presenting a course on MycoPermaculture in April. It’s really busy, and it’s only January. I’ve got some pretty good lists and the best-laid-out whiteboard you’ve ever seen, but I still feel like I’m barely keeping track of everything that’s going on…
Go Robin! We can’t wait to see what you do next!
This farmer profile is part of an ongoing series exploring farming in the Columbia Basin / Kootenays. There are some seriously inspiring humans growing amazing food – and many opportunities for new entrants with vision and drive! If you’re interested in farming the Columbia Basin, reach out to our Land Matcher in the region, Hailey, to explore land opportunities and other ways YA can support you in realizing your Basin farm dream!
Want to see your farm featured in our Farm the Basin profiles? Reach out to Hailey!