US: Chicago’s fungi guy is out to save the world, one mushroom at a time

Contrary to what his profession might lead you to believe, Joe Weber hasn’t always been obsessed with mushrooms. These days, as founder and CEO of Chicago’s Four Star Mushrooms, an indoor mushroom farm, it’s pretty much all the 26-year-old thinks about. For the past 2 ½ years, Four Star Mushrooms has been supplying high-quality fungi, including lion’s mane, blue oyster, black pearl, pioppino, and chestnut, grown under rigorously monitored systems without the use of pesticides or fertilizers, to some of the city’s most ingredient-driven restaurants — think Alinea, Smyth, Oriole and vegan spot Fancy Plants Cafe — as well as retailers Local Foods and WhatsGood Farm Shop.
With the mid-June opening of an 11,000-square-foot production facility in the West Loop’s Kinzie Corridor that will include grow rooms, a dry lab, cold storage, a retail storefront, a dining concept, and a commercial kitchen and wet lab for research and development, Weber will be spending even more time focused on fungi.
“We’re trying to revolutionize the cultivation of mushrooms and change our food system,” he said of the new facility, which will open in phases with plans to be in full operation by the end of the year.

Mushrooms, it seems, can do some magical things for the environment. “Mushrooms are this interesting interface between life and death and nutrient recycling,” Weber said of mushrooms’ ability to feed off organic waste material. “At the end of the day, nutrient cycling is this thing that allows our ecosystem to work. If you remove that aspect of it, then everything falls flat. That’s kind of what we are experiencing now across the Great Plains with mono-crop agriculture and increasing fertilizer inputs.”

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