At the beginning of 2020, Holly Scott impulsively quit her job as a wine rep and started a mushroom growing business called Fun-gal Farms in her basement.
Even Covid couldn’t stop her from having fun(gi).
The Ben Avon resident has since moved Fun-gal Farms to a McKees Rocks storage facility, where she cultivates a variety of mushrooms, from Phoenix Oyster, Lion’s Mane and Pioppino to Nameko, Beech and Turkey Tail.
Scott supplies local eateries, including Con Alma and Hyeholde Restaurant, with seasonal mushrooms and sells them online through Market Wagon and at farmers’ markets throughout the city. Patrons are amazed by the bright colors and shapes. Some resemble flowers or corral; others look like aliens from outer space. All are edible. Her Facebook page is a showcase of mushrooms in all their photogenic glory.
“Americans are terrified of mushrooms,” Scott says with a laugh. “If anything good came out of the pandemic, it’s the increased awareness that there are incredible health benefits to eating mushrooms.”
Although there are no fungi that are approved by the FDA for medicinal purposes, studies indicate that mushrooms are rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and help protect your heart, digestive system and brain function.
Scott grew up on a 65-acre farm in Harmony, PA, where she foraged for wild mushrooms with her dad.
These days, her mushrooms start off in Petri dishes, where Scott grows mycelium, the vegetative part of the fungus that has root-like filaments. They are nurtured in a 350-square-foot, climate-controlled storage unit, where a hydro fogger keeps the humidity high. With the help of her 6-year-old daughter, Isobel — who can rattle off mushroom names as fast as her ABCs — Scott produces between 80 to 100 pounds of produce a week.
Due to the recent restaurant shutdown and the end of the farmers’ market season, she’s had to compost a lot of her stock. She encourages people to contact her through Facebook to purchase mushrooms for their home-cooked meals.
There are 14 different mushrooms growing right now. Scott, who got her start in the culinary industry through big Burrito Restaurant Group, says her favorite is Lion’s Mane, which she regularly throws in stir fry dishes. Many vegans use the species as a seafood substitute due to it’s crablike taste and texture.
Scott is fascinated by fungi and plans to visit the Mushroom Festival in Kennett Square, PA, the self-proclaimed Mushroom Capital of the World, once Covid restrictions are lifted. The two-day street fair draws 100,000 people annually.
Until then, she doesn’t have to go very far to see mushrooms being celebrated. On a recent drive to the grow room, Scott noticed decorative mushrooms carved into the McKees Rocks Bridge.
“It’s like I was meant to be here,” she says.