GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY: Bob DiPietro, founder and co-owner of the RI Mushroom Co., shows off a bag of Golden Oyster mushrooms. In the background, farm worker Colton Mackenzie unloads a shipment of mushrooms into the company’s cooler.
It’s mushroom season in South County. Not wild mushrooms, which in New England emerge when the weather chills in autumn, but the cultivated oysters, shitakes, maitakes and pioppinos springing from the greenhouses of RI Mushroom Co. LLC in South Kingstown.
Just 18 months old, RI Mushroom has doubled its output since the start of this year and, thanks to a state grant and the rapid growth cycle of fungus, expects to double that production again before the end of the year.
“More mushrooms,” said owner Robert DiPietro about the company’s strategy for future growth. “We picked a warehouse with plenty of room to expand. By the beginning of next year we should be up to 5,000 pounds per week, up from 1,000 pounds per week at the start of this year.”
One of 17 recipients of a state Local Agriculture and Seafood Act grant in that program’s inaugural season, RI Mushroom is part of the burgeoning farm sector selling a premium product to the local market.
The company now sells at 17 Rhode Island farmer’s markets as well as specialty stores in South Kingstown, Providence; Cambridge, Mass.; and Boston.
DiPietro didn’t always want to be a mushroom grower.
He comes to the industry from the culinary world, where he worked as a consultant and manager, including 10 years at the White Horse Tavern in Newport, before developing an interest in amateur mycology, the study of spores and fungus.
An acquaintance who had moved to Rhode Island from mushroom-rich Oregon first introduced him to how the organisms are cultivated and he took to it quickly.
DiPietro’s first growing space was tiny, an 8-foot by 8-foot room in the basement of Sweet Berry Farm in Middletown, which let him test out his skills two years ago.
The product DiPietro produced proved so popular at Sweet Berry’s farm store that he soon decided to go commercial.
After the friend from Oregon bowed out of a planned mushroom farm, DiPietro joined forces with Michael Hallock, a local musician he met at a farmer’s market who had also developed an interest in growing edible mushrooms.