Shiitake Happens: Mushroom Farming in Southern California

Hippies at heart and endlessly creative, the Parker family finds passion in mushroom farming.

Owning and operating the only mushroom farm in Los Angeles, Matt Parker grows and delivers mushrooms to top restaurants in the area. Even though he never dreamed of one day becoming a mushroom farmer, he has grown a passion and a career around the little organisms. “I’ve always liked mushrooms, but I didn’t realize that I would absolutely love mushrooms by the end of it,” Matt says earnestly. “I mean, there’s something magical about mushrooms, right?”

Originally pursuing surf journalism and studying creative writing, Matt decided he needed a more lucrative, steady career option—not in the hopes of becoming rich, but rather with the humble yearning to start a family. “All I really need to do is be able to start a family, buy a house, see my kids and surf regularly,” he says. On hearing this, his friend suggested he look into mushroom farming. And while admittedly random, Matt looked into it more and found that mushroom farming started to check off all the boxes in his head. He could start the family he wanted, surf regularly and not have to worry about wearing a suit and tie—an idea that he dreaded.

Although he could have gone a simpler path into the family business, Parker Hearing Institute, his family supported his new path. “You would think that with such a strong path, my family wouldn’t support me as much as they did, but my parents are my biggest cheerleaders,” Matt says gratefully. Kristin also gave him her full support, even though the idea took her by surprise. “When he told me he wanted to do this, I was like, ‘What? Why?’” Kristin remembers. “At first it seemed like a science project.”

After doing two years of research and learning everything he could about mushrooms, Matt took out a loan and started his adventure in 2008. Word of mouth and the fortunate timing of the “grow local, buy local” movement made his project a profitable business. Even with its hiccups—including getting electrocuted in his fruit house—Matt now provides mushrooms to some of the best restaurants in town. “I really love what I do, and I think it’s really rare that people get to do what they love for a living. Now I can’t see myself doing anything else,” he says.

With a second baby due in April, Matt has started the family he wanted so badly. “Clem’s rad; she’s like a little monster. She went from being a baby to being a tiny human so fast. And now Kris is pregnant with number two; I’m stoked,” he says. Kristen adds, “Now you really got the fire under your butt, huh?”

Mushroom farmer Matt Parker's daughter Clem enjoys the family business too.

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