If Brendan Linnane had to pick a favorite mushroom, it would be the shiitake. “Shiitake do what’s called ‘popcorning,’ where the mycelia start to bubble out,” says the owner of Foggy Dew Fungi. “Then it goes through a phase where it turns a dark brown color and the mushrooms just pop out. That’s why I think they’re so fascinating! The process they go through is cool, and they’re just a gorgeous mushroom.”
Foggy Dew Fungi is a small, family-operated gourmet mushroom farm deep in the hills of Newcastle in Placer County, built on respect for nature and strong community ties. Now it’s on the verge of expanding, and Linnane will see his dream grow well beyond its roots in a San Francisco garage.
Growing up in Placer County, Linnane was fascinated by the natural world. “From a young age we were big into nature and hiking and being more mindful of what it has to offer us, not only for food and medicine, but also peace of mind,” he says.
Farming is in Linnane’s blood: His father Paul Linnane grew up on a farm in Ireland. “As we got older and we went back over there, I saw their lifestyle living on the coast and farming, and it felt very primal, like there was something in me that just called out,” Linnane says. Seeing a gap in the market for mushrooms in Placer County triggered an aha! moment. “It clicked in my head that mushrooms was my little niche I wanted to do.”
He earned an associate degree in environmental horticulture from City College of San Francisco and began growing mushrooms in his garage. Bolstered by his friends’ positive reviews and ready to break away from city life, he decided to start his own venture in 2019.
Two years later, the business has become a well-oiled operation. Built on a small area of his father’s property, efficiency is critical when Linnane is most often the only one at the helm doing much of the processes, despite the rare volunteer or occasional help from his dad (who holds the title of president and CEO of Foggy Dew, since he owns the land). They stay mindful of water and energy consumption during growing seasons and often barter mushrooms with other local farmers in exchange for food. “These kinds of things paint a bigger picture of sustainability and running businesses and building community and just healing the planet,” says Linnane.
Eight species typically grow at once — chestnut, pioppino, lion’s mane, reishi and abalone were in rotation this fall — but the strains switch up seasonally. “I think it makes Foggy Dew Fungi unique when we show up to a market and have all these crazy looking mushrooms people have never seen,” Linnane says. “We grow one that’s a shocking pink and another that’s a bright, golden yellow!”
Education is a big component on Foggy Dew Fungi’s website, which features a tutorial on their oyster mushroom grow kits, and recipes like mushroom tacos, vegetarian mushroom “crab” cakes and reishi tea. Buyers can also purchase the farm’s mushrooms online through the Placer Farmers Marketplace, accessible through their online store.
People often joke with Linnane about his enthusiasm for his work. “They see me on social media or out at markets and they’re like, ‘Wow, you’re really passionate about this.’” He goes on, laughing, “But it’s just me pouring myself into what I do. I always say you can’t fake the funk.”
Foggy Dew Fungi has built a loyal clientele over the last two years, and Linnane credits much of its success to his father, who he calls his best friend. The elder Linnane prefers the more social side of the business — chatting with customers at the farmer’s markets, giving impromptu cooking lessons, educating them on the health benefits — and the customers respond to it. “To see him at the market really engaging with people is fun. Building that sense of community is so important.”
Those relationships he’s built within his community are first and foremost on Linnane’s mind as plans move forward and he learns the ins and outs of expansion: hiring employees or volunteers, looking at warehouse space, and letting other people in to help steer the ship in the right direction.
“Things are really starting to ramp up,” he says. “We’re having to tell a lot of restaurants no right now, because we have a good core group of restaurants and markets that have been supporting me from day one, so keeping them stocked with mushrooms is a top priority.” Despite feeling a bit nervous as changes begin to happen, he’s excited to move forward. “It’s been exciting and insane doing all this,” he says. “The future is very bright for Foggy Dew Fungi!”
Starting a new business on your own can be very scary and intimidating, Linnane admits, but advises potential entrepreneurs to keep a positive mindset. “Just do your best, stay positive and things kind fall into place. Ride the wave and hang on for dear life!”
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