Follow Mushroom Fantasies in Los Ranchos

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Matt Fien Gretton inspects a grill of dried oyster mushrooms on December 6 at Matt’s Mushroom Farm. Fien Gretton started the farm to pursue a long-held dream. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis / Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit New Mexico, Matthew Fien Gretton landed what he considered a dream job: a job as an agricultural coordinator at Jemez Pueblo.

The role blended his passions for environmental education, greenhouse management, health policy and other skills.

At least until 2020 rolled.

“Nothing went as planned, because the coronavirus popped up in the middle and just destroyed everything we were trying to do,” Fien Gretton said.

The pandemic changed Fien Gretton’s role overnight, placing him on the front line of the fight against COVID-19 in a vulnerable community. Fien Gretton, who is not a member of the pueblo, was tasked with securing and distributing food donations, helping set up testing centers and other tasks very different from the job that he thought he had occupied.

“And we knew that if we stopped it would only take one foot in this community, then the coronavirus would kill all the elders,” he said.

A year later, Fien Gretton was trying to reconcile a stressful job, a newborn baby and, alongside, a passionate project for 15 years: to operate a mushroom farm.

Something had to give.

“I almost killed myself with everything I was trying to do at once,” he said.

Ultimately, Fien Gretton chose his child and his hobby, choosing to quit his job on the pueblo in July and pursue mushroom cultivation full time. And so, Matt’s Mushroom Farm was born at the back of a rural cul-de-sac in Los Ranchos.

“When that chance presented itself, my options were either to jump on it, no matter how risky it was,… or to let it go and resign myself to the fact that it would never happen,” he said. -he declares.

Fien Gretton first fell in love with mushrooms after taking a mycology class at State University of New York in Syracuse, New York. He came to appreciate the consistency and rapid growth cycles of the fungus, as well as how the industry is ripe for innovation.

From a food sustainability perspective, Fien Gretton said mushrooms are one of the few crops that can be grown productively in a small space, allowing them to feed communities without easy access to fresh produce.

“It’s a way to put fresh food in the hands of the people who want it, who appreciate it,” said Fien Gretton.

Matt Fien Gretton cuts the bottom of a few freshly harvested oyster mushrooms on December 6 at Matt’s Mushroom Farm in Los Ranchos, a business he started after quitting a job at Jemez Pueblo during the pandemic. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis / Albuquerque Journal)

Before you ask, the mushrooms sold at Matt’s Mushroom Farm do not contain psilocybin, the psychedelic compound found in some wild mushrooms. The farm specializes in growing mushrooms that grow in woody conditions, including oyster mushrooms and lion’s mane oyster mushrooms.

The farm grows mushrooms in biodegradable bags filled with wet sawdust and beet pulp granules, letting the fungus start to take root in a cool, humid room. Fien Gretton said some bunches of mushrooms can grow to the size of a basketball before being harvested.

Matt’s Mushroom Farm sells to specialty food stores like Talin Market and Skarsgard Farms, as well as local restaurants like Scalo and Campo in Los Poblanos. Fien Gretton said the company is also showing up in local farmers’ markets and has also launched a CSA, or community-supported agriculture, model for people looking to improve their selection of local mushrooms.

“It’s a question of freshness,” said Fien Gretton. “… Every time they have had to take a tour that has lasted more than a day, the quality of the mushrooms will drop sharply. “

Even now, Fien Gretton has doubts about whether to pursue his mushroom fantasies full time. Starting a small business is never easy, and he said his staff have battled COVID-19 cases and lost demand during restaurant closings. Because the company was formed during the pandemic, Fien Gretton said it was not eligible for many state and federal stimulus programs that arose in 2020.

Without a large investor backing the business, Fien Gretton said he had to be creative when seeking funding, asking friends and family for money, taking “questionable” loans and researching obscure federal grants few others might know how to seek out.

Even with that, he said all the money he earns is used to keep the business afloat. He thanked his family for their support and thanked his employees – a collection of “passionate freaks” – for agreeing to work with him on planning and other issues when times get tough.

“I’m living now (my dream), but it’s not like I’m making any money with it,” Fien Gretton said.

Despite the challenges, however, Fien Gretton said demand for mushrooms currently exceeds supply and the company is looking to increase capacity to better meet customer needs.

“As long as you can reliably produce the mushrooms, people want them,” he said.


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