Rayne Grant has been studying mushrooms since 2012. For the past five years she’s even been working on a documentary about the fungi.
She began experimenting making mushroom medicinals in 2018, and now she’s hoping her mycological mania will create a successful home-based business.
About two years ago, Grant formed Colorado Mushroom Co. and began selling mushroom-infused tinctures, elixirs, coffees, skin salves, seasonings and chais on Etsy.
Mushrooms used in her products have been obtained foraging out in the wild or ordering mushrooms online, but now she’s working on creating a growing structure in the back workshop of her Bayfield house, where she plans to begin growing fruiting fungi.
“We call it the ‘myco lab.’ We’ve got lab coats and all – official lab coats – because you have to create a situation where it’s sterile. Otherwise you have molds, yeasts and bacteria, and they compete. So you have to follow certain standards,” Grant said.
The use of mushrooms to remediate toxic soils and to eat plastics, and other creative uses have inspired Grant’s documentary “Can Mushrooms Save the Planet?”
Grant works in videography and photography, and while the pandemic crushed her media work, it that allowed her to focus on growing Colorado Mushroom Co. and finishing her documentary, which she plans to complete this year.
“I was kind of forced to put all of my focus into mushrooms and my business. It turned out to be a good thing, because that’s when people started really wanting to support their immune system, and my sales went way up,” she said.
Even before her fascination with mushrooms, since her teenage years Grant’s been interested in natural healing and herbs. That interest is now combining to incorporate mushrooms.
“Mushrooms help with cancer, they have anti-tumor properties, they support the healthy flora in the gut, they help with the immune system. There’s so much there,” she said. “In other parts of the world like Germany and Russia, it’s part of the norm to go out and find 40 chanterelles, but for some reason in the United States we have a fungus phobia,” she said.
Grant believes her idea for a mushroom-based business can thrive based on evidence she received at the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, when her Etsy sales peaked at about $300 a month.
Since the first months of the pandemic sales have dropped to about $50 a month, but she plans a social media advertising campaign, and expects to boost her sales once she gets her growing myco lab up and she secures a steady supply of mushrooms.
Grant’s sister, Jeni Gross, has joined the business and financing from family and friends are helping with development of the myco lab.
Grant sees an almost limitless amount of products she can integrate with the healthful properties of mushrooms. She might try a mushroom-infused pancake mix next.
“It just really depends on what’s wanted and needed, right? Where the demand is,” she said.
Experience from the pandemic, Grant said, opened the eyes of many people to food security and healthful alternatives, and she believes locally produced mushroom products can help alleviate some of those concerns.
“The whole COVID thing, a lot of people started wondering what would happen with their food, where it came from,” she said. “And I was thinking: If we’re able to grow mushrooms and supply even just our neighborhood, that would be something. But now it’s to the point where I can see us outgrowing our lab.”
Besides selling her products on Etsy, Grant has begun talking with local restaurants to see if they would be interested in locally sourced mushrooms.
“I’m even thinking of a home-delivery service. If somebody wants me to come deliver a couple of pounds of, say, oyster mushrooms, we could deliver it to your door,” she said.
Like many small businesses, Grant said, financing to bring her ideas to fruition has been her biggest problem.
“We’ve gotten a couple of small loans, and we’re looking at some grants to help us move forward a little faster, but right now, we’re just doing everything ourselves, and that can be slow going,” she said.
While infused-mushrooms cannot solve a financing issue, Grant is confident the beneficial natural properties of mushrooms are a solid foundation for a business.
“There’s so many varieties and they’re each different, different textures, different flavors, and we’re going to grow a bunch of them,” she said.