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Longmont mushroom man grows fresh fungus among us

“For the last 20 years, I’ve been studying how to grow mushrooms."

Mushroom Matt, known outside his inner circle as Matt Solano, stands at the helm of Mycenae, a local mushroom business rooted right within the walls of his house where he cultivates an array of gourmet and medicinal mushrooms.

All are destined to grace local plates and tinctures with freshness, flavor and fervor. Yet, beyond mere cultivation, Solano’s mission also extends to education, passionately advocating for the understanding, utilization and healthful properties of various mushroom species.

“For the last 20 years, I’ve been studying how to grow mushrooms. I’ve been foraging, and I’ve always been fascinated with doing it,” Solano said. “That’s the life form that gives birth to mushrooms. It’s everywhere. Everywhere you walk. It’s under the ground.”

With his 18-month-old daughter attached to his hip like a mushroom on a tree, Solano unzipped an eight-foot-high indoor grow tent dominating the dining room adjacent to his kitchen. With a flick of a switch, light flooded his personal grow lab, revealing mason jars filled with cultures, small science puck petri dishes nurturing spores and bags of packed grain signaling the start of another mushroom-growing cycle of mycelium. 

In a space where most families gather around a kitchen table, Solano’s passion and pride for mushrooms are unmistakable, evident in the commanding presence of the grow tent. For him, the farm-to-table concept takes on a whole new meaning right within the confines of his own home. His tinctures stand out for their freshness, crafted within days of harvesting the mushrooms, setting them apart from those typically found in health food stores.

With over two decades as a chef under his belt, Solano’s culinary journey spans numerous reputable establishments, including Blackbelly Market and 24 Carrot Bistro in Boulder. His expertise intertwines seamlessly with his belief in sustainable cooking, an ethos in which mushrooms play a pivotal role.

“I’ve had a lot of interest in classes from other people. A lot of people love the fresh mushrooms,” Solano said. “A lot of people, you know, they want to see how they grow so I wouldn’t mind finding a spot where people can do that.”

His aspirations extend beyond personal cultivation. Solano’s mushroom journey has faced setbacks, notably the loss of his Lafayette greenhouse, compelling a hiatus from mushroom farming while he balanced his responsibilities as a new father. 

As the 45-year-old gets older, Solano noted that the culinary career’s cadence clashes with a life of wellness, stirring a reflection on its taxing toll and mental stress.

Within those decades of culinary expertise lies an unrelenting passion for mushrooms that transcends the confines of a traditional kitchen, outlining a deep-seated interest in fungi that traces back to childhood curiosity and a desire to understand their growth. While many might overlook the diverse array of mushrooms populating their surroundings, Solano’s eyes are trained to see the hidden bounty. 

“A lot of people don’t [notice mushrooms]. You know, this is 66 right here and people are driving up and down oblivious to the world around them. We’re very tunnel-vision beings and there are mushrooms everywhere,” Solano observed, gesturing toward the surrounding area outside his back window.

Despite the challenges, Solano’s dedication remains unwavering, fueled by a desire to rekindle his mushroom-growing endeavors, especially in Longmont, a community he views as deeply supportive.

As Solano navigates this next chapter, his commitment to mushrooms remains unwavering, supported by a formidable investment of time, equipment and passion — a testament to the perseverance of a chef turned mycophile entrepreneur.

Seeking support for his mushroom pursuits, Solano looks toward avenues like pop-up events and tincture sales, all the while holding onto aspirations to establish a full-fledged mushroom farm. Longmont, with its unique blend of farm-town vibe and natural healing communities, stands as a promising locale for his envisioned mushroom-centric operation.

“I’m a big local person. I like to support a lot of local businesses when I can,” Solano said. “I think Longmont will be a nice place to have a mushroom farm and get it going. Boulder County, in general, is a great environment for my daughter.”

Solano’s mushroom enterprise is past the brainstorming stage; he knows the ropes and is confident in his abilities. His primary hurdle now is securing funding for a new greenhouse. Once he has the necessary funds, he’ll be set to propel his mushroom-growing venture forward.