Meet Bill Monroe, the Mushroom Man

When you think of the ag industry in Northern Nevada, the first crop that comes to mind is probably not mushrooms. But Adams Hub entrepreneur Bill Monroe of CalNeva Organics is pioneering this space in the exploding indoor-agriculture sector. Here’s a quick Q & A with the co-founder of this exciting, sustainable ag-tech business.

How would you describe your business?

I’ve got my hands in several ventures right now, but I’m currently focused on mushrooms, as that facility is about to open in a few weeks in Carson. CalNeva Organics is an organic oyster mushroom farm that incorporates biotech systems into food production for consistency in product, calculable and timely yields, and ideal fruitbody size. We grow oyster mushrooms in a sterile environment using waste materials from other agricultural crops such as wheat straw, rice hulls, peanut husks, palm, sawdust/wood chippings or cannabis and hemp stalks.

How did you find your way into this business?

My partners, Nick and Phil, met a local mushroom mycologist named Dr. John (Doc John) Holliday last year when discussing a different business we were developing. As that development continued, Doc John became closer on the project and eventually proposed possible revenue enhancement with the incorporation of mushrooms into our current agricultural system. After some development and research, we landed on a reciprocal and multi-beneficial business model to incorporate oyster mushrooms into our plan.

What’s the biggest challenge that you’re facing right now in growing that business?

Our model is to grow certified organic oysters, which requires organic inputs into the system. During the summer, before summer wheat is harvested in the southwest, we find it difficult to source quality materials for our nutrient inputs. The material must be tested to be free of fungicides and other non-organic matter, and with a monthly requirement exceeding seven tons of dry straw, it is not an easy order to fill.

What kind of growth are you anticipating in the coming year? Why?

CalNeva Organics is part of a larger operation that is in multiple states under the name “Holliday Mushrooms”. Our goal is to have ten to twelve mushroom farms across the country focusing on organic oyster mushrooms. The oysters are part of a class of mushrooms considered to be “exotic” in the markets, and Doc John’s biotech system allows for consistency and quality in these mushrooms. We have one brand, Holliday Mushrooms, that will be represented in many markets across the country by the end of the year and into next year. We aim to be to Planter’s Peanuts or Blue Diamond Almonds of the exotic mushroom industry- partnering with local operators in different states, supplying them with operations support and sales channels.

Why Oyster Mushrooms?

Oyster mushrooms are dense in protein and nutrients, and are largely unknown to the mass market. Everyone knows about the common button mushroom and portabellas; even shitake and crimini are popular. These mushrooms are classified as agaricus, and grow primarily in a soil mixture. Oysters grow from waste material from other agricultural crops, therefore turning waste into food. This is important because it allows us to implement a farm like this in any market that has agricultural production–including third world countries–and allows for the manufacture of protein and vitamins from waste. We consider this an opportunity to help feed the world.

Tell me about your work style and how being a member at the Hub supports that.

My work style is very free-spirited and lightly structured. Most days I feel like work is just one constant stream of tasks and agenda items flowing from one day into the next. Being a member at Adams Hub has allowed me to come into the office at all hours of the day and night to support the busy schedule I keep. There is always coffee available–a true life saver for me–and it is a conducive environment to work in. I’ve utilized the available interns for market research and help in shaping the business early on, and intend to use them as sales and marketing researchers in the coming weeks. Kat and Miya have been incredibly supportive and communicative of pertinent issues to my business–from texts alerting me of arriving packages to key introductions with influential people in the business community. Working from Adams Hub has certainly accelerated my start-up, and will continue to help propel it into a successful business.