A mushroom enthusiast grows his business

Accessing the Trust’s Food Producer Wage Subsidy Program has helped Robin Mercy of Mr. Mercy’s Mushrooms in Kaslo hire the people he needs to meet a growing demand for his locally grown delicacies.

3 minute read

Eager worker hired with help from wage subsidy

The shiitake mushrooms taste earthy. The lion’s mane mushrooms grow long, white, dripping spines. The chestnut mushrooms boast golden caps and slender stems. These are just a few of the mushroom varieties grown by Mr. Mercy’s Mushrooms in Kaslo.

It’s very hands-on work—during a short growing season—to harvest these delicacies so that people in the West Kootenay can enjoy their complex and amazing flavours and benefit from this fresh, healthy, locally grown food.

To get the work done, owner Robin Mercy relies on hired help. “I’m lucky that people are interested in mushrooms. Especially here in the Kootenay Lake region, there are a lot of other mushroom nerds. I’ve been quite fortunate that I’ve always been able to find really good hires and I’ve been really happy with the people I’ve been working with for the last few years with the help of Columbia Basin Trust and its funding.”

The funding that Mercy speaks about is a wage subsidy targeted to primary food producers in the Columbia Basin—those who grow grains, vegetables, fruit or forage (and mushrooms!), or who raise livestock for meat or dairy products. The goal is to help farmers and ranchers hire employees throughout their growing and harvesting seasons so that their products can ultimately arrive on our tables.

Putting down roots

Mercy wasn’t always into mushrooms. Originally from Argenta, he started out with a career in forestry. His time in the woods made him interested in the living things around him and he soon branched into identifying and eating wild mushrooms. About a decade ago, he took a course on mushroom cultivation, and “I was totally hooked.”

The birth of his son also prompted him to give up the seasonal forestry work that so often took him away from home. Settled in Kaslo, in 2017 he started growing mushrooms full-time. “I really wanted to put down roots somewhere and forge a connection to the community, as well as do something for myself. It’s been growing steadily and organically since then.”

Unlike conventional mushroom growers, who grow indoors in controlled environments, Mercy grows outdoors on his property. In-season, he offers a weekly mushroom box program. He also sells to local restaurants and grocers.

A bounty of benefits

For help, he has obtained the Trust wage subsidy a couple of times, which has led to a range of benefits. First, he can offer a higher wage, which helps him attract qualified staff. “My main costs are labour, so it’s great to have those lowered somewhat while also being able to make the position more attractive and being able to get great candidates for the jobs.”

These employees have then had a positive effect on production. “For the 2021 season, our fresh mushroom production increased by around 30 per cent, thanks in large part to this program.”

Having invested, interested workers has also allowed Mercy himself to spend less time in the field. “It has definitely enabled me to focus more on the general administration side of the business, plus freed me up to explore some of the other avenues that we’ve been going down.”

This includes expanding to support people who grow their own mushrooms, from selling mushroom spawn to offering an on-site “mushroom club” where participants learn the essentials. “It has allowed my business to take chances on some different ventures that I didn’t know would 100 per cent work out at the outset—I just knew that I had the costs of production covered.”

He loves that the program is flexible—for example, that he can hire different workers at different times as needed.

“We’ve had a great experience with this program, and would definitely encourage other farmers in the Basin to apply!”

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