Jul 26, 2022 - Economy

Alt-meat startup opens world's biggest aerial mycelium farm

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Alternative meat startup MyForest Foods unveiled Monday what it calls the world's largest aerial mycelium farm, a high-tech facility meant to crank up production of its mushroom-based imitation bacon — one of many products making it easier for meat lovers to give up the real thing.

Why it matters: Animal farming is a major greenhouse gas emitter, and wide-scale adoption of alternative meats could help curb climate change — assuming they're produced cleanly.

The details: MyForest Foods' new facility, called the Swersey Silos, is located in Green Island, N.Y., a short drive up the Hudson River from Albany.

  • The Swersey Silos are expected to annually produce nearly three million pounds of mycelium — the root-like fungal structure from which mushrooms grow — for making the company's MyBacon pork alternative. A company rep said that would be enough for about one million pounds of MyBacon per year.
  • Axios got to tour the 78,000 square-foot vertical farming facility, where mycelium will be grown in substrate on racks reaching 16 feet tall. With seven rooms, it'll have 1.75 acres of growing space — about the same as a smallish conventional mushroom farm. Each batch is grown for 12 days and harvested in a single day.
  • MyBacon samples offered at Monday's event were delicious, if not exactly like the real deal. (For those interested in cooking some at home, the chef recommended medium-to-high temperatures, adding that "you can't flip often enough.")

What they're saying: "We basically build these cyborg buildings that replicate the environment you find in a forest," MyForest Foods co-founder and CEO Eben Bayer tells Axios. "And we sort of trick the mushroom to form these, basically, sheets of mushroom flesh. So rather than forming a mushroom, we get a 50-foot-long, four-foot-wide, two inches thick slab of mushroom meat."

  • "The organism does a self-assembly of something that's like a piece of animal flesh, and we just harvest it, like harvesting an animal," he adds, referencing the fungal mycelium.
  • "They've got this umami flavor, which sort of mimics flesh. And all we do is slice it off, slice it into bacon strips, salt it, smoke it, put a little coconut fat on it."

The big picture: MyForest Foods was spun off from Ecovative, a company Bayer co-founded to explore business opportunities in mycelium-based clothing, packaging, and more.

  • Ecovative was one of the earliest commercial mycelium ventures, a category that has since grown to include a number of other startups, such as the San Francisco-based MycoWorks, Colorado-based Meati, and Israel's Mush Foods.

Yes, but: Despite lots of marketing and industry partnerships with big brands like McDonald's and Starbucks, consumer interest in alt-meats may be waning.

What's next: MyBacon, which was first available at an Albany grocery co-op, is now coming to two Massachusetts stores as the company scales up production and the broader alt-meat wars rage on.

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