Bluff City Fungi, an indoor Certified Naturally Grown mushroom farm, has been providing fresh mushrooms to local and regional grocers, restaurants, and farmers markets for nearly five years.
Chances are that if you recently dined out at a place like 117 Prime, Sweet Grass, or Interim, you've already tasted Bluff City Fungi's buttons and portabellas — but most people wouldn't know that these delicacies were grown right here in the middle of our city.
Scott Lisenby, the mushroom mastermind behind Bluff City Fungi, first started growing mushrooms as a hobby while running a produce and flower farm full-time. "I tried to do mushrooms on the side because I was just fascinated with it," he says. "I didn't really know anything about mushrooms — I just loved the process."
But he quickly realized that this hobby of his could be the best way to differentiate himself from other local farmers. "At first I was focused on flowers and vegetables, but that's really hard work, and there's a ton of competition here," Lisenby says.
- Scott Lisenby
- Bluff City Fungi
"We saw that there was this huge need for mushrooms that nobody was filling and just sort of switched tracks and reinvested everything into mushrooms to see if it would work. From then on, it's literally just been small iterations of building and putting everything back into the mushroom business."
It seems that decision has paid off. Bluff City Fungi has experienced rapid growth in recent years, but with that, there have also been some minor growing pains. To account for their increased production, they've needed to move into a larger space; but with a staff of just three people and a packed calendar, that was no easy feat.
"The expansion has been insane because we haven't been able to take a couple weeks or a month off, and then move, and then restart," Lisenby says. "We've been running our old farmers market route from Oxford to Nashville to Memphis and Little Rock — and we've been doing all that while we're building this, too. So it's been like doing a regular day and then coming here and doing a whole second work day on top of that, almost every day for three months. But it's been super worth it."
One of the best things about Bluff City Fungi is the sheer variety of mushrooms they offer. "We grow probably five or six set varieties, but I've got like 30 to 50 species in my actual cultural library," says Lisenby. "So we'll bring out some specialty stuff every now and then, just to keep from getting bored."
Whether you're seeking out oyster, shiitake, or chestnut mushrooms — or something more exotic — there's a lot to choose from. And the farm produces about 400 pounds of mushrooms per week, which is both exciting and chaotic for the people growing them.
"Farming takes a level of dedication and gluttony for punishment as it is. But with mushroom farming, you're trying to create such a controlled system in an absolutely impossible-to-control world," Lisenby explains, adding that finding a day off can be rare. "Just this year, I've finally been able to take some Sundays off. This is definitely more of a lifestyle than a job."
What makes Lisenby's dedication to growing mushrooms even more endearing is that he wasn't especially a fan of them from the start. "What's really funny — and I probably shouldn't tell people this — is that I didn't like eating mushrooms when I started doing this," he says.
"I just found the blend of science and agriculture fascinating. But over time, working with so many great chefs, they taught me the right way to eat them. Since I got a couple tips and tricks on how to cook them, I eat them almost every other day now. Plus it's, you know, right here. Easy to grab," he says with a laugh.
You can grab some fungi for yourself at their next farmers market appearance or through their website at bluffcityfungi.com.