Mushroom market sprouting up in Alberta

By Tim Kalinowski


One small start-up company is seeking to launch a mushroom growing revolution which benefits both the Alberta craft brewing industry and cattle feeding operations.

Alex Villeneuve., founder of Ceres Solutions Ltd., has been working on his vertical mushroom growing system over much of the past four years in close co-operation with Olds College. As Villeneuve states, the idea of vertical mushroom growing isn’t a new concept, but what is put into the rich substrate inoculate contained within the growing tubes is quite unique.

“Ceres Solutions was a project I initially started in while I was at the brewmaster program at Olds College here,” Villeneuve explains. “I saw a tremendous amount of waste being produced by the beer-brewing process, and I thought we are using some of the best malt grade cereals to brew the beer and it was kind of a shame that a lot of those grains are going to waste. So I came up with a process that uses those wasted grains as a substrate to grow gourmet mushrooms. And as a byproduct of that, we actually enhance the protein of the mushroom compost and it has the potential to be used back in livestock feed. So we grow and sell these mushrooms to local restaurants, and then all the waste will be going back to support local farm operations.”

Growing mushrooms on a larger scale is indeed a challenge, confirms Villeneuve., but after four years of development Ceres Solutions is about to take its growing system from the research stage onto the commercial stage in a large way.

“It is quite a difficult process to grow them on a commercial scale, but once you get the hang of it, if you are using our system, it accelerates (that process),” he says. “We use a vertical growing model. We pack our inoculated substrate into long tubes and we hang them up and they incubate. And that eventually leads to fruiting which produces the mushrooms. We will be working with a distributor in Calgary. He is going to take all we are able to produce. We are going to be targeting restaurants and food producers.”

Ceres Solutions can grow a wide range of speciality mushrooms, confirms Villeneuve. Anything from lion’s mane mushrooms, through the various oyster varieties to shitaki mushrooms. All can be grown, and all are commercially viable and potentially profitable in the restaurant market, he says, and their new distributor is confident he can readily sell all that Ceres Solutions can provide.

“I think the reason there is a demand for it is because we’re growing it locally, and there is very little waste from our process,” says Villeneuve. “It is also not very energy-intensive. A lot of the mushrooms people see in the grocery stores come from South Korea or places where they need to be shipped in great distances at great cost. So there is quite a bit of demand for the local product.”

And there is potentially another commercial aspect as well, explains Villeneuve.— and that is the growing technology itself.

“I think this is a unique kind of growing system, and I have really great opportunity to sell the product and license the system,” states Villeneuve.

“I can tell people I have this fabulous technology which works with any kind of fibrous, agricultural waste pretty much anywhere in the world. I know I am never going to be able to scale this so I can direct access every market or up-cycle brewing waste in every corner of the Earth.

“I think the way we are looking at it right now is we will bring on local partners in whatever market we are looking at, and then we will license it to them.”

Villeneuve feels the sky is the limit in the gourmet mushroom market; especially when it means pairing up with a growing craft brewery industry worldwide.

“Most breweries in Calgary and Edmonton pay to have their waste removed by private composting companies or through waste management services,” he says.

“If you are lucky, you might be able to find a farmer to come in and remove it, but seems to be coming less and less common to see farmer and brewery relationships unfortunately.

“For me, I just have this pilot facility at the Olds College campus, and we take all the grain the Olds College brewery. And when they are a little bit short, we go up to the Troubled Monk Brewery (in Red Deer). When we upscale the technology we anticipate we will be servicing quite a few more.”