MONTREAL – If you start asking Gabriel Vallée about mushrooms, he’ll talk to you – oyster mushrooms, lion’s mane and a host of other types are his priority. He runs the Big Block Mushroom Workshop, an urban mushroom farm just off the northeast corner at the intersection of Highways 15 and 40.
He’s been doing this for almost four years now.
“Growing mushrooms in an urban context requires a lot of ingenuity and a lot of dynamism,” he said.
His mushroom house is in a warehouse on the third floor, and he grows the mushrooms by putting sawdust in plastic bags treated with moisture and sugar to mimic the conditions one would find in a forest. humid.
His urban farm can produce over 100 kilograms of mushrooms per day, and restaurant interest has been strong for most of the farm’s history.
Then COVID struck.
“And the cards have just been reshuffled, where your hand is no longer your hand,” he said. “We had to tap a bit, we had to pivot. “
Montreal restaurants have closed, which means that suddenly the main market for much of its high-end products has dried up for the time being.
According to grocer Patricia Masbourian, who runs Chez Nino, a high-end produce market in Jean-Talon that sells mushrooms from the Valley, it’s a more difficult time for producers than for markets like his. Even though three-quarters of her business is restaurant-focused, she says she can just stop buying products in the short term.
“But they have to grow things,” she emphasizes.
A mushroom’s life cycle is approximately four weeks, which means Vallée still has to pick her harvest, even if there is no restaurant to sell to.
Masbourian points out that during the latest wave of restaurant closings, demand for high-end mushrooms returned as people rediscovered their kitchens.
“People started to eat and cook a lot,” she said. “So it came back very quickly.”
She’s hoping the same will happen this time around, and in the meantime, Vallée has changed the way he sells his wares.
“We prepare marinades,” he said, “and sell dried mushrooms. “
After all, he has over a hundred pounds of varieties like blue oysters just begging to be plucked.