I first encountered Avery about 10 years ago at a poetry reading event produced by a mutual friend, Maria Diotte of Bliss Arts at the old Fulton Street Gallery in Troy. He was hard to forget, a dynamic performance artist with a heart of gold. Impressively, he has found a way to combine all things art and community at his indoor urban vertical mushroom farm, mycological education center, and community gathering space. This includes live music, poetry events and creative making workshops to yoga, artisan dining and political activism, and that’s just scratching the surface. I would say unequivocally that he is one of the most renaissance creatives I have ever met.
Please state your name, company and position. How big is your company? Can you also tell us a little about your background?
My name is Avery Stempel, I am the owner operator of Collar City Mushrooms, an indoor urban vertical mushroom farm, mycological education center, and community gathering space in Troy, NY. Our operation occupies 3,500 square feet on .33 of an acre in a structure that was originally built as a Brewery. We employ a mix of 10 part-time and full-time team members as well as run an internship program for folks interested in getting their hands into the mycelium as part of an educational experience. I grew up on a family sawmill in the Helderberg Mountains and was constantly immersed in the natural world. The secret lives of fungi have always fascinated me. I graduated from Siena College with a degree in philosophy and received two master’s degrees in education from Sage Graduate School. During my professional life I oscillated between performing arts and teaching. I’ve worked at Capital Repertory Theater, The Egg, and EMPAC at RPI. I’ve also hit the spotlight myself as a poet, musician, and actor.
What is the mission of Collar City Mushroom? What type of clients do you serve? Partnerships and retail partners?
When CCM opened, it was important for me to combine all my passions under one roof. The three pillars of our mission are to educate, enrich, and entertain. We provide opportunities for people to eat nutritious whole foods, learn about the mushroom growing process, and enjoy creativity in all its various forms. Our gourmet mushrooms are used in many restaurants in the area and available direct to consumers through Albany’s Honest Weight Food Co-Op, Saratoga’s Healthy Living Market, the New Lebanon Farmers Market, and right from our farm store at 333 2nd Ave in Lansinburgh. We also produce a variety of value-added products and co-creations we’ve curated with other small businesses. We’ve partnered with Indian Ladder Farms to make both a cider and a beer including mushrooms, Primo-Botanica to create a non-psychedelic mushroom and cacao drink, and Kru Coffee for a canned ready to consume lion’s mane infused cold brew coffee. We are a “yes-and” company. We want our community to be able to share their products and ideas for experiences.
You incorporate a lot of creativity and collaboration into the fabric of CCM. Can you share a bit about the creative side of what you have going on in the programming?
We have hosted poetry performances, makers markets, meditation sessions, yoga classes, knitting workshops, mycelium building activities, and a myriad of art centric events. Local creators such as Jade Warrick, Armando Soto, John Zoccoli, Lindsay Kirk, and Jonn Paul have graced our walls, and musicians such as Sean Rowe, Jeanine Ouderkirk, Stokker, Nick Bisanz, the Deadbeats Duo, Kenyatta Emmanuel, and Malicious Offense have entertained our guests. Growing incredibly beautiful mushrooms is an art. Converting them into mind-bendingly delicious foods is an art. Crafting mushroom sculptures is an art. Life is art. We continually surround ourselves with creativity in process and welcome others to do the same!
I see your constantly connecting, touring and talking with legislators, what goals are you trying to accomplish on the political front?
In addition to growing a myriad of culinary and medicinal mushrooms, we are also advocating for legal access to psilocybin containing mushrooms. We founded the New York Psilocybin Action Committee and adopted leadership of New Yorkers for Mental Health Alternatives. We have met with dozens of NY lawmakers at our farm and in the Capitol as we strategize ways to end the criminalization of people attempting to heal using natural psychedelics. The wave of evidence pouring from hundreds of research projects around the world shows the efficacy of psilocybin to relieve stress, process trauma, ease anxiety, and even break the cycle of addiction. We are working towards a future where psilocybin containing mushrooms will be a legal option for people’s healing journeys and well care routines. We are also advocating for greater understanding of urban vertical farming in city communities. With growing interest in local-vore diets and shorter supply chains, more projects such as ours are opening across the country. The need to streamline approval processes and applications for support will be critical for the future’s food supply production.
Any exciting pieces of programming you would like to share with our audience?
Currently we have a show up by photographer MYCO-Fox that will be up through September 30th.
Coming up in August we have two Death Metal shows, one on August 5th and one on August 26th, a Poetry Open Mic on August 13th, and on Saturday, August 19th Chef Haseim Townsend from Organa Juice Bar will be curating a dinner as part of our monthly dinner program. A bit further down the road we have a dinner event at SPAC as part of their culinary arts program called “A Mushroom Experience.” This November 4th event will be a multiple course meal featuring mushroom music, mushroom photography, and mushroom sculptures! Follow our social media for all the latest updates.