If a situation like Breaking Bad was legal, it would look like Andrew Lloyd in his garage growing mushrooms. The process begins in Petri dishes with similarity to bacteria growth – no gardening gloves or worms here. A simple fascination with mycology – the study of mushrooms – and Lloyd was hooked on one of the earth’s underappreciated lifelines. So much so that he began cultivating them in his garage. This was nothing like the greenery seen in a garden bed, farm fields, or blooming backyards of his neighbors. Instead, it was an iteration of urban agriculture, which he later realized was an interest of his next-door neighbor, Max Harris.
After a kind lawn mowing gesture from Lloyd, the four-year-long neighbors finally had their first chat and it involved farming. Through their conversations, they realized their passion began to align more and more – so much so that Lloyd finally shared his version of a man cave with Harris.
“I swear it was like walking into an Alice and Wonderland universe. The mushrooms looked nothing like the ones right down the street at Trader Joe’s. These were a different animal,” said Harris about his first experience in Lloyd’s mushroom garage.
Mushrooms don’t grow in soil because they aren’t plants – rather fungi are decomposers. They break down organic material that they live amongst – think dead trees and organisms. Thus their environments are more specialized. Therefore, backyards and garages aren’t conducive to farming.
With an unfinished basement and a carpet wanting to be ripped out by Louma Levine-Harris – Harris’ wife and the third member of their trifecta – the mushroom farm secured a new home. The sterilization process is parallel to a doctor’s office. They use medical-grade air purifiers to ensure there isn’t cross-contamination in the primary steps. Shoe covers make sure that nothing is traced in accidentally, potentially disrupting growth. Each detail is pivotal to ensure the final product blooms into high-quality fungi. When done right, they turned Harris into the mushroom lover after years of refusing to have a bite.
“I can’t even explain it but I didn’t know this – the mushrooms that Andy grew – was a possibility for such fungi. The grocery store supply could be there for months getting slimy, but these have earthiness and meatiness. It’s a delicacy,” said Harris. Interestingly enough, the supermarket specialties sell the same fungi but grown under different conditions.
It wasn’t just the taste that converted them, it’s mushroom’s medicinal qualities. Specifically, lion’s mane mushrooms improve brain function and assist individuals suffering from neurodegenerative disorders. Thus, they developed the Denver Mushroom Company. Now consumers can locally source their lion’s mane and use its qualities purely instead of relying on the supplement market.
Their ideas began small with the amount of produce they could grow. Lloyd had enough for family, friends and restaurant folks in the garage. The move to the basement amped up production and led to their next breakthrough.
Albion St. Farm is the next iteration of urban gardening where neighbors are the hyperlocal purveyors for the community. After a normal afternoon chat between Andy’s wife – Nina – and her Bulgarian parents, they suggested setting up shop right in front of their house. They said goodbye to the middle man and began welcoming folks to their own farmer’s market.
Their produce goes beyond mushrooms. Levine-Harris used the extensive reach of social media to ask other local gardeners and farmers if they face surplus issues. Instantly, her phone buzzed with likes and comments signaling their agreement. Albion St. Farm’s desire to provide for their neighbors required reeling in the community – the result is a plate of everyone’s passion.
Pleased with their finds, folks leave with bouquets of plants from black true heirloom tomatoes and blush pink oyster mushrooms to deep orange yolked eggs and golden honey. The offerings rotate seasonally. Lloyd or Harris harvest mushrooms the seconds after ordering or the day before for ultimate freshness.
There’s no rooster for a morning wake-up call, but work Saturday morning starts early to get the farm stand ready. A robust wooden archway is a perfect aesthetic to act as the welcoming sign for their pop-up and potentially distract buyers waiting in line at Trader Joe’s just a parking lot away. This heavy traffic area brings unknowing customers within walking distance to an escape from the suburban scene for a look into what the countryside and diverse forest holds.
The open sign begins to hang at 10 a.m. Saturday morning but mushroom fanatics can reserve their bounty Friday to ensure their favorites make it into their brown paper bag. “We want our customers to trust us to be their mushroom guys. We care a lot about each one we grow – so it feels even better to hear how well others receive them and are quick to order more,” said Harris.
Usually, it’s less than a two-hour window before it’s time to pack up. Those that make it early also get to try the undiscovered delicacy as Andy brings out his cast iron to grill them up as samples. A bit of butter, white wine and salt make these simple mushrooms sing.
As an ode to the mushrooms they love so much, they make sure nothing goes to waste. They return the surplus to the growers or donate to those in need. Furthermore, the nitrogenous mushroom by-products make a potent compost. 800 pounds of compost collected each week is for sale to other urban gardeners for naturally enhancing their crops.
Food and transparency are what fuel this farm stand. Each member could talk endlessly about the fascinating aspects of food – from growth to nutrition. They encourage people to see food growth by welcoming them to their mushroom lab because after all, seeing is believing.
The best way to stay up to date with Albion St. Farm Stand is via Instagram.