Opal and Wade Watson
With three children and longtime careers in the local culinary scene, Wade Watson and his wife Opal already had enough on their plates. But after spending a fateful day foraging for chanterelle mushrooms in 2014, Wade and Opal began researching mycology: the study of fungi. They started cultivating mushrooms out of their home, and eventually grew an innovative business from this passion for fungi.
“Chanterelles are part of a mycorrhizal network, meaning that these fungi form symbiotic relationships between beneficial bacteria and microbes in our soil,” says Wade. By connecting many individual plants and trees, these mushroom networks help transfer water and nutrients (such as carbon and nitrogen) throughout the whole system. “These complex, natural relationships fascinated me and compelled me to educate myself in mycology, reading everything I could find.”
As it turns out, fungi can do some pretty amazing things for the natural world in terms of cleaning the environment as well.
Mycoremediation, or the use of fungi to help decontaminate the environment, is another source of fascination for Wade. The mycelium, or vegetative part of the fungus, can be used as a filter to remove pollutants from water. This type of filtration may become part of Pontchartrain Mushroom’s future.
In addition, there’s a “Composting for the Coast” initiative from Pontchartrain Mushrooms. By composting their used growing medium for soil creation, the mushroom farm can provide organic soil for coastal restoration projects.
“The reason this is important is because plants grown in organic soils form life long, symbiotic relationships with fungi, bacteria and microbes, making them more disease and pest resistant and promoting the longevity of the plants,” says Wade.
Drawing on his 19 years of experience as a chef in locations such as La Provence, Watson already had an insider’s view of the New Orleans mushroom market. When Pontchartrain Mushrooms first launched, there was only one commercial mushroom grower in Louisiana. Now Wade is dedicated to providing area chefs with locally grown, high-quality specialty mushrooms. His company’s growing success speaks for itself.
“The support we have received from area chefs has been absolutely amazing, but I would say our biggest success so far is waking up every day and knowing that we made the right decision to pursue Pontchartrain Mushrooms,” says Wade. “What has evolved from our idea has given me a feeling of great purpose. I’m proud to show my children the hard work and dedication it takes to work towards achieving a dream.”
At this time, Watson is interested in further researching mycology and mycoremediation, and he welcomes any donations or help with grant writing to support that endeavor. For more information visit them at Facebook.com/pontchartrainmushrooms, on Instagram @pontchartrainmushrooms or by emailing email@example.com.