He started growing in his garage about 12 years ago. It was an interest he developed in high school after he went vegan and he was trying to get more protein in his diet without eating so many beans.
“Beans get old really fast,” said Estevan Hernandez, owner of New Mexico Fungi, an Albuquerque-based commercial mushroom business.
Hernandez opened his urban farm in May 2021 after studying mycology or fungi under a master grower and cultivating mushrooms for personal consumption, eventually leaving what he says was an unfulfilling career in electrical engineering.
He grows about a dozen rotating species year-around in indoor incubators designed for temperature control. Enoki, Chestnut, Lion’s Mane, Reishi, Shiitake, Shimeji and Turkey Tail, including several oyster varieties, black pearl, blue, golden and pink, are all a part of his offerings.
The senior mycologist harvests about 140 pounds of mushrooms weekly to sell for medicinal purposes and as fresh produce for his customers, which include local restaurants like Vernon’s Speakeasy and Los Poblanos. He also sells fresh and dehydrated mushrooms and growing kits through his website.
And he shares his knowledge through a weekend growing course that comes with a growing kit, a live tissue culture, and a 30-minute session with the master grower highlighting the medicinal and nutritional benefits of the fungi that different from plants, which rely on photosynthesis or the sun to grow. Mushrooms break down matter for nutrition.
“I’m very focused on education because there is a lot of miseducation,” Hernandez said, adding that he doesn’t think he ever heard the word mushroom while attending schools in New Mexico. He has a youth-focused program to help change that.
“I’m looking to increase access and hopefully going to inspire the next generation of mycologists.”
New Mexico Fungi is one of 10 mushroom growers in the state. His business is one of three operating on a larger commercial scale, according to Hernandez. He says through his class smaller farms have bloomed, especially in areas where the varieties are hard to access.
Hernandez, who now has one employee and two volunteers who serve as interns, came to The Loan Fund for startup funds. Though he had saved money for working capital, he still needed more funding to buy essential equipment such as a computer, lab supplies, shelving and hiring help.
“I would probably still be working out of my garage and I certainly wouldn’t be operating on the scale I am now. On a good week, I’d be harvesting 60 to 70 pounds a week by myself,” Hernandez said, adding that he also wouldn’t have the accolades he has now, including Albuquerque The Magazine’s 2022 Best Specialty Food Shop Award and brand certification through New Mexico True.
“I owe a lot to The Loan Fund,” he said. “None of this would have been possible without their support.”