Talking Mushrooms with Katie Lawson from Fungal Focus

I am on the record as being a mushroom lover. I like cooking with them, I like learning about them, I like eating them, and I’ve even been known to take a mushroom foraging class (though I’m by no means a pro).

Fungal Focus Utah
Katie Lawson of Fungal Focus Utah. Photo by Katie Lawson.

When it comes to watching mushroom trends, many new things pop up: mycology courses, an ever-expanding list of culinary mushrooms, research on health benefits and medicinal benefits that impact everything from brain function to longevity, and of course, mushroom grow kits. In search of the latest mushroom news, I sat down to chat with Katie Lawson, the founder of Fungal Focus, to talk everything mushrooms and mycology.

When asked how she began her interest in mycology, Katie answers “I graduated from college in 2009 and was a little aimless. I started working on organic vegetable farms in Oregon through a program called WOLF, which is Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. I thought I was doing it to travel cheaply. But once I started working with plants and food, I didn’t feel like I had the option to turn back. So I started farming in 2011. Then in 2016, I went to a Radical Mycology talk at the Anderson Foothill Library and realized that I was missing this really important component of how ecosystems work, how forests work, and how food works.”

In 2019 Katie founded Fungal Focus because, in her words, “the business started basically by default. There aren’t a lot of jobs in my field. I think that is going to change over the next five to ten years, but there are very few now, and in 2019 when I started the company, there were very few then. So I realized if I want to do this work, my option is self-employment.”

Fungal Focus seeks to support and expand the community of mushroom growers and fungal advocates in Salt Lake and the surrounding areas. 

As a die-hard mushroom advocate, Katie saw two ways to fulfill her mission: educational workshops and CSA-style culinary mushroom grow kits. 

Available from July through November, the CSA mushroom grow kits are handmade here in Salt Lake City with an eye for sustainability and variety. I’ve purchased mushroom grow kits online and had limited success. Sure they grew, but not to the extent that was advertised. Katie enlightened me on my mistake. The commercialized grow kit I bought was likely produced in a specific location—one with a different environment, humidity level, and altitude than what we have here in Salt Lake City’s high desert. Basically, it wasn’t conditioned to grow in our region. The Fungal Focus CSA grow kits solve that problem. 

“The grow kits are curated for our climate,” says Katie. “So I only sell something that I have grown and gotten to work here. It’s very dry. This is not the ideal climate for growing mushrooms, but we live here, and it’s nice to have options for growing our own food.”

Fungal Focus Utah
Pink Oyster Mushroom. Photo by Katie Lawson, Fungal Focus Utah

Like most garden favorites, each mushroom variety grows best in a specific season. With Katie’s CSA kits, you’ll enjoy different varieties each month. Here are a few that stood out to me from the website:

  • BLUE OYSTER – a cool weather variety rich in umami and stunning to watch grow.
  • ASPEN OYSTER – this Utah native smells amazing! Deeply floral and sweet smells make this a very special mushroom.
  • PINK OYSTER – meaty and bacon-esque pink oysters, form dense fruit bodies that offer value in flavor and texture.
  • SHIITAKE – legendary for its culinary and medicinal prowess, Shiitake is an earthy and umami-rich mushroom.
  • PHOENIX OYSTER – a Utah native, this mushroom can be found at higher elevations on lucky days.

While the window to sign up for Katie’s kits this year has expired, the 2023 batch will be available early next year. When I asked Katie what to expect next year, she told me, “the species I’ve selected have been vetted for here. We grow two different types of indoor mushrooms, Shiitake, and we’re going to have Lions Mane for the first time. And then I think six or seven different species of Oyster mushrooms. They have a seasonality to them, so we have the cool weather ones and the warm weather ones. Oyster mushrooms are super beginner friendly, and they’re a really good place to start.” Be sure to sign up in 2023.

Fungal Focus Utah
Oyster Mushroom. Photo by Katie Lawson, Fungal Focus Utah.

Want to learn more about mycology? 

Katie teaches regular workshops through community partners and lifelong learning. In addition, she is getting ready to launch a new venture: The Salt Lake Youth Mycology Club. Taking place at the Glendale Library from November 15th—April 25th every other Tuesday from 4:30 p.m. – 6 p.m. This club is designed for middle and high schoolers interested in fungi. “I taught kids for the first time this past summer, and that was so fun,” said Katie. “They’re so creative and enthusiastic, and their imaginations are just firing.”

Sign up for the Fungal Focus newsletter to get information for the 2023 CSA, upcoming workshops, and the Salt Lake Youth Mycology Club. You can also follow Katie and her assistant, aka “morale booster, receiver of good boys, and substrate shredder,” Artemis, on Instagram.  


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Lydia Martinez
Lydia Martinezhttp://www.saltlakemgazine.com
Lydia Martinez is a freelance food, travel, and culture writer. She has written for Salt Lake Magazine, Suitcase Foodist, and Utah Stories. She is a reluctantly stationary nomad who mostly travels to eat great food. She is a sucker for anything made with lots of butter and has been known to stay in bed until someone brings her coffee.

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