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Storefront mushroom farm opens in Pioneer Square

[storefront] Olson Kundig Architects, home to the Mushroom Farm Credit: Kevin Scott

Urban agriculture is an accepted phrase in the cosmopolitan lexicon of Seattle, where backyards and parking strips abound with zucchini and lettuces, but what is ‘urban agriculture,’ exactly? The City of Seattle recently set up a series of listening sessions to discuss “Our City, Our Food, (and) Our Future,” envisioning a just, sustainable, and resilient food system. On the stated agenda sent round last week, they aim to discuss “sustainable ways to prevent and deal with food waste.” And while a series of listening sessions may sound productive to some, others have already embarked on projects that experiment with food waste and create new food systems.

Enter Olson Kundig Architecture — the king of architectural firms — tucked quietly into Pioneer Square, but living loud elsewhere. No stranger to accolades, this firm has received recognition from the American Institute of Architects, World Architecture News, and more in 2011 alone. As ever, they are at the forefront of another thought-provoking project with Mushroom Farm — a temporary installation wherein local coffee ground waste is collected and reinvented as a growing medium for mushrooms.

The Mushroom Farm is located in the storefront of Olson Kundig Architects (OKA) — an experimental space where the firm aims to create community engagement through the display of its own projects and collaborations with artists and student groups. In this case, OKA is working in conjunction with CityLab7, a group of peers hoping to “generate innovative ideas to help individuals and communities internalize and understand the true impacts of climate change,” and farmer Alex Winstead of Bellingham’s Cascadia Mushrooms.

Winstead, who was approached by CityLabs7 at his weekly University District Farmers Market stall, found the idea compelling. “The entire concept of the installation is to spur, and hopefully inspire, more thinking and conversation about underutilized waste streams that can be used in an urban agriculture scenario,” says Winstead.

Mushroom Farm acts as a small-scale mushroom production facility and utilizes local coffee ground waste as a growing medium. Mushroom farming is already considered a secondary crop, grown in the waste that follows a primary product. Typically though, mushrooms are grown on sawdust, as with Cascadia Mushrooms, from timber industry waste or in coffee-growing refuse in tropical regions.

“[This is] my first time growing with coffee grounds on this large of a scale (versus an experiment) and I’m pretty impressed with the way it has grown,” Winstead says.

Winstead and CityLab7 aren’t the only ones impressed with the experiment. Public interest has also been formidable. “This is our first week. We opened on Tuesday and even then we had a couple of people lined up at the door,” notes Chris Saleeba, a landscape designer and founding member of CityLab7. The team has used each new coffee shop to spread the word and generate excitement — Caffe Umbria, Starbucks, and Zeitgeist Coffee.

Mushroom Farm is open from 11 to 1:30pm daily (along with other times and special events) and includes a Community Lunch Room, where brown bag diners can congregate around a 25-30 seat family-style table. The educational component is [that the farm is a] live thing that you can go in and experience, which allows people to make the connection,” Winstead adds. He says visitors learn that materials typically overlooked as waste products can be turned into something valuable, beautiful, and delicious.

The Mushroom Farm began with two cycles of coffee collection over the course of two weeks in January. All in all, they collected a little over a cubic yard to grow the mushrooms, demonstrating jus how much waste material is created in such a short amount of time. Using the grounds as a base, the group mixed up the mushroom grow bags, which also contain sawdust and grains. The entire farm will produce Oyster Mushrooms.

It is estimated that each growing bag will eventually produce ½ to ¾ pound of mushrooms. The Mushroom Farm itself is filled with 215 bags that are expected to produce 125-150 pounds of mushrooms.

Still, an estimate is just that. These numbers are based off of a more traditional growing medium, so the final outcome is still just a projection at this point. “The caveat is that this is an experiment,” notes Saleeba. The first mushroom harvest will take place on March 1 at 5 pm and is open to the public. Mushrooms will be harvested by Winstead and donated to local food banks as a way to complete the sustainability cycle.

If you go: Mushroom Farm is located in historic Pioneer Square at 406 Occidental Avenue, open 11 – 1:30 pm, through March 9th

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