Mushrooms are a family affair at Sonoran Mushroom Company, where owner John Jacobs works with his wife, Kay; son, John; and daughter-in-law, Danielle, to grow and sell more than a few varieties of mushrooms. And each person adds something important to the business. John grows the mushrooms, Kay creates special mushroom-based spice blends, John Jr. handles the social media, and Danielle does the books. Together they have one goal: to become the largest provider of mushrooms in Arizona.
Raised on a wheat and alfalfa farm in Washington, John and Kay came to Tucson in 1968. After years of entrepreneurial and sales jobs, John wanted to get back to his roots as a farmer—and in 2015, he found a way to utilize his five-acre property on Tucson’s eastside by building a mushroom farm.
John and John Jr. had been dreaming up a mushroom business for years. After seeing that only a few of the thousands of varieties of available mushrooms were being sold locally, they set out to introduce people to more flavorful and nutritious varieties. In the beginning of 2016, John began growing an assortment of nutritious mushrooms such as blue oysters and Italian oysters, and the variety getting the attention of more than a few people in Tucson: bacon mushrooms.
These mushrooms grow indoors to simulate wild conditions: cool weather and moist air. The mushrooms grow out from a plastic bag filled with straw and can take up to three months to develop fully. However, a controlled environment doesn’t ensure ease. “When mushrooms are ready, they’re ready,” John said, requiring him to harvest at least two times each day.
The Jacobs family knows the value of buying locally grown mushrooms. “When you ship mushrooms, they sit in their own moisture and grow other things,” he said. “They aren’t fresh.”
When the mushrooms from Sonoran Mushroom Company are harvested, they’re quickly packaged and delivered to local stores like Time Market and Rincon Market, and to local restaurants such as Feast, Wild Garlic Grill, Reilly, and Casino Del Sol.
Sonoran Mushroom Company has big plans to expand. The company’s current production capacity is about 1,000 pounds of mushrooms per month. The new grow building they plan to build later this year will allow them to produce up to 10,000 pounds per month. “We’re going to do what we can to grow mushrooms for Arizona,” John said.
John attributes the company’s growing success in part to the customers he meets at St. Philip’s Plaza Farmers’ Market. The market has enabled him to connect with restaurant buyers and with home cooks. The customers “are the main focus,” he said. “Meeting with them face to face each week reminds me why I do this.”