Throughout history, the bond between humanity and the Earth has been strengthened by the age-old practice of farming. From cultivating crops and raising animals to developing modern agricultural techniques, agriculture has provided sustenance for civilizations, influenced cultures, and nourished our bodies and souls.
As we find ourselves at the crossroads of tradition and innovation, whether working the land or farming in an indoor controlled environment, the timeless appeal of farming continues to draw us closer to our roots. Farming on any level is a testament to the human spirit’s resourcefulness, perseverance, and unbreakable partnership with nature.
In this article, we have the pleasure of learning more about locally grown gourmet mushrooms from Ms. Roydoya Robinson, a passionate farmer living in Providenciales who has uniquely cultivated the fungi. These fascinating organisms have captured the attention of culinary enthusiasts and health-conscious individuals worldwide for years, and it’s great to see Turks Islanders joining the trend. Join me as we explore the fascinating world of gourmet mushroom farming, island style and uncover the story behind Ms. Robinson’s success.
B.H:I recently learned that mushrooms have been recognized as a superfood in recent years. That’s interesting! I’m curious about mushrooms’ nutritional value and health benefits. Can you share more about why they’re so good for us and why we should make them a part of our meals?
Ms. Robinson: Gourmet mushrooms are a great source of essential nutrients that are good for our health. They are low in calories but rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals. Mushrooms are also a good source of antioxidants and dietary fiber. They help boost the immune system, promote heart health, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes. Additionally, gourmet mushrooms are versatile and can be used in a variety of dishes, making them a great addition to any meal. They are an excellent meat substitute and can be used to make vegan versions of some of our favorite local dishes like the ‘Hashed Not Lobster’ featuring Lions Mane and ‘Steamed No Conch’ featuring Pink Oyster Mushrooms.
B.H: What was your why for venturing into mushroom farming?
Ms. Robinson: I always loved mushrooms, but it was a major health challenge in 2020 that set me on the journey that led to the establishment of TCI Mushrooms. I needed to consume nutrient dense foods that would play a major role in my healing, and mushrooms were at the top of the list. But the types that I needed that were packed with benefits were not available in local grocery stores. So, I decided to finally put the mycology skills I never thought I would use since I graduated with my Bachelor’s in Environmental Studies with Tourism in 2007 to use; and grew my own mushrooms. My high school chemistry teacher Mrs. Lettice Malcolm told me when I cried my way out of chemistry A-levels, that chemistry will never leave me. She was right, because now I am in my lab every week working to produce the freshest gourmet mushrooms available.
B.H: Farming any crop can be challenging; how difficult is it to cultivate mushrooms?
Ms. Robinson: Yes, mushroom farming can be challenging, if there is one misstep it can be catastrophic where the whole crop is adversely affected, leaving me to start from scratch. That is not good when there are financial commitments. But for me it’s not as difficult as some other crops. I don’t have a green thumb for growing plants. I have a black thumb, so I can do all things fungi. Having a mycology background is also a plus. The process involves creating a sterile environment for the mushrooms to grow and recreating the environmental parameters for them to thrive. So, for here in the Turks and Caicos Islands, that means Fortis TCI loves my mushroom farm if you know what I mean. One of the main differences in growing mushrooms is the medium it is grown on. It’s not the typical soil, but rather a blend of agricultural waste called substrate that gives it the right amount of nutrients to grow. Once the substrate is ready, the mushroom spores are introduced, and the growing conditions are maintained until the mushrooms are ready for harvest. While it requires some expertise, mushroom farming is a rewarding and profitable venture.
B.H: Apart from manipulating the perfect environment, what do you need to grow crops on a large scale? And which strain is the easiest to cultivate?
Ms. Robinson: Technical knowledge and access to capital are the two main components of a successful commercial operation. There are grants and technical assistance available from government and quasi government entities available to Turks and Caicos Islanders who qualify. However, shear grit, determination, and a passion for what you do are equally as important.
In terms of which gourmet mushroom is the easiest to cultivate, it really depends. Every farmer would have their favorite type. My personal favorite is the blue oyster. Not only is it a beauty to behold, but it has a relatively short cultivation time, and it is our meatiest mushroom.
King Blue Oyster Mushrooms
B.H: How many types of mushrooms do you cultivate? Also, I notice the huge clusters, are they the usual size?
Ms. Robinson: We currently have a library of 14 strains of mushrooms that is continually growing particularly with the introduction of local medicinal mushroom strains and the development of our own mushroom strains. The size generally depends on the strain and the average pound. is 2lbs. I’ve had mushroom clusters that were over 3 lbs.
B.H : Which mushroom is the most popular among buyers?
Ms. Robinson: My customers generally prefer variety. So, our Aza’s Mix (named after my daughter) is the most popular. It consists of 2-4 of whatever types we have growing at the time as our strains change throughout the year. I think it’s a favorite with buyers because of the variety.
B. H: How many workers do you have to assist you with farming?
Ms. Robinson: At the moment it’s a family affair. My baby sister Elinor works as a farm assistant and my daughter Anaiah and son Azaan are little helpers from time to time. Together we crank out between 1000 lbs. and 1200 lbs. of substrate each week. However, as TCI Mushrooms continues to expand an additional employee is definitely needed to help us to meet our targets.
B.H: Besides the organic value of your mushrooms, what are the other benefits of your farming venture in the Turks and Caicos Islands?
Ms. Robinson: Farming for me is very therapeutic. It is something that I love doing and keeps me connected to my Kew, North Caicos roots. It is also inspiring to other young farmers, especially those that are interested in non-traditional farming methods and non-traditional crops. There is so much that can be grown here in the Turks and Caicos, you just need to take a stroll through the produce aisle at the grocery store and see what opportunity awaits.
B. H: You are at the Farmers Market in Kew Town on Providenciales every other Saturday; which other ways do you promote TCI mushrooms?
Ms. Robinson: Although we mainly sell wholesale to hotels, restaurants, private chefs and even to local floral designers. The Kew Town Farmers Market provides a wonderful avenue for us to interact with our retail customers. Knowing your farmer and where your food comes from is so important. We generally advertise on our social media pages prior to market and at market we always have business cards, brochures, branded signage, and our uniforms of course. You never know who may pop up at the market, so it is always best to be prepared. We are also a proud allied member of the Turks and Caicos Hotel and Tourism Association so there are loads of networking opportunities and avenues available to market our products.
B. H: What is the overall vision for your company?
Ms. Robinson: Our vision is to be the premier choice of gourmet mushrooms in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Through providing high quality fresh product, introducing new varieties to our local market, and reducing reliance on imported mushroom brands.
If you want to contact Ms. Robinson to purchase gourmet mushrooms; here are the contacts:
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 649 333 2292
Online Farm Store: tci-mushrooms-2.localline.ca
NOTE: The gourmet mushrooms we grow are varieties that are commercially grown. We also have a variety of medicinal mushrooms strains that consist of both local and imported strains. Yes, that’s right, we have local strains of mushrooms that are awesome for its nutritional and medicinal value. Locally, all mushrooms are referred to as Jumbie Parasol, and the generations before us have had a fear of them. Although there is nothing to fear, it does not mean that anyone should just pick and consume wild mushrooms. This is because all mushrooms are not edible. So that means only those who are well versed with the kingdom of fungi should attempt to do so.