Smugtown Mushrooms strives to educate the masses
If you see a mushroom in the woods, think twice before kicking it over.
And if you believe that all wild mushrooms are poisonous, you are suffering from “fungophobia,” a term coined in the late 1800s to describe westerners’ fear of mushrooms. This fear of poisoning or even hallucinations has held many people back from exploring the spoils of the forest. Olga Tzogas, owner of Smugtown Mushrooms located at 127 Railroad Street near the Public Market in Rochester, has become an expert in identifying the different types of edible mushrooms found locally. The 2003 Greece Athena graduate still remembers the first time she foraged for mushrooms outdoors. “I thought, ‘this is outrageous’,” says Tzogas. “I can’t believe there’s all this free food in the woods.” After finishing her studies at Monroe Community College, she traveled to the west coast where she took specialty classes and attended farming conferences that reinforced her fascination with the culture of cultivation. “I kind of caught the bug, brought it back, and kept going with it,” she says.
In the back room of the Smugtown shop, indoor mushroom kits are blooming with lush blooms of creamy white and earthy brown. A fan is humming while a gentle mist falls.The business serves as a supplier for local restaurants and community members interested in cultivating their own mushrooms indoors and outdoors. Smugtown also hosts workshops and community events to educate those who take an interest in mushrooms and their many health benefits. There is a misconception that only high-end restaurants or sellers can access the finest mushrooms—but they are easy to grow on waste streams using sawdust or wood chips, Tzogas explains. They are flavorful and rich in vitamin D. Plus, they’re pretty cool look- ing.“Mushrooms are amazing,” says Tzogas. “They breathe oxygen like we do, which is gnarly. They also consume food like we do.”
Tzogas grew up working at her family’s business, Olympia Restaurant, and says going into business for herself came naturally in some ways. Smugtown will be changing locations in October 2015, as Tzogas takes the next step in her journey. “Obviously, it is a business, but I want to design it in a way that’s for people and not just about profit,” she says. “It should also be about the environment, the community, (and) educating people.”
Bethany Bushen is a Rochester freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter.