Paul Hamilton | Walla Walla, Washington
Danielle: All right. We are here visiting Paul in Walla Walla, the lab man. And we ended up in a really cool space. Hi, hey, what’s going on here?
Paul: Welcome to the boiler room. This is one of the oldest wooden half-pipes, at least in these parts. It was built in 2004 by my former employer at the Walla Walla Roastery. And this is where the skaters of Walla Walla come to test their metal. I run it as a donation-based skate Co-Op, and the airport is good enough to let us use this space, which I also run my business out of. I’ve got a sterile culture laboratory here, and I produce liquid culture for mushroom cultivation, which I sell on the internet.
When did you get into this?
I’ve been interested in mycology for many years, but I founded Fungaia in 2019. So pretty new. We’re definitely in our adolescent growth phase and feeling all of the growing pains.
I understand that you’ve been doing some training around the world, will you tell me about that?
Mushroom cultivation education is kind of the passion. I’m trying to help people understand how easy and enriching it can be to produce your own food at home. It’s also pretty affordable. The techniques are not that hard to master. I’m doing that through educational mushroom kits, building a YouTube channel, and in-person mushroom cultivation workshops; the longest one is an eight-day course. I got to participate in my first one down in Guatemala at the Fungi Academy this last January. And I’m looking forward to hopefully holding one this Fall here in Walla Walla.
How was that in Guatemala?
It was quite an experience. It’s a different world, and there are really good people doing some really amazing stuff there. It was really a pleasure and a privilege to be able to get to participate in that.
What do you have going on here, as far as the future?
I’m just trying to build and develop very organically and gradually. I have always believed it’s very important to stay within your means. Something I really feel the fungi have taught me is that if you try and grow too quickly or take on too much, you can kind of collapse under your own weight. To that end, I’ve tried not to borrow any money. I financed everything myself just with what I’ve earned and with a lot of elbow grease, and I’m very DIY.
Most recently, I brought all of the electrical in this building up to code, installed my own service, and everything got to learn a lot about power. I’ve done all of the plumbing and HVAC. And I’ve also been expanding the facility outside and trying to turn this kind of forgotten, neglected, contaminated little piece of industrial wasteland into eventually a thriving ecosystem. So, lots of mulching. And right now, just the very bare-bones kind of building the soil and developing the landscape and getting it ready for more vegetation and planting stuff. I take on interns every summer through a program with a local college. They helped me a lot with managing day-to-day tasks, and I also got to give them a free license to decide what projects they’re interested in and what sort of research they wanted to do. And then just try and support them in conducting some of their own projects. We’ve got a lot of ideas. We’ll see what see if any of them bite to tackle any of those projects this summer.
Can we get a little peek at what you’re working on in this very cool space you have here?
Alright, let’s go. We really are at the airport. In lieu of a full building, I’ve got an insulated Old refrigerated semi-trailer. And don’t mind the mess. But this is what I’m building into sort of the extension of the business. So here we’ll have a commercial kitchen space. This is also where I’ll be doing most of the substrate preparation. And then my shipping and fulfillment in my office, which is also kind of doubling as a shop right now because I don’t have the shop heated.
That’s also where I’ll be assembling these portable laminar flow hoods. So that’s one of my other big projects right now. What does that do? This is a sterile air filtration device. That’s a really important part of being able to do any kind of microbiology. It works best if you have a sterile environment where you can open containers and transfer fungal or bacterial specimens from one sterile container into another. All of that has to happen under laminar flow, which is basically a continuous sterile airflow so that other pathogens and other microorganisms can’t get their way in. If you’re starting out in mushroom cultivation, if you’re interested in it at all, this is the one tool that makes it a million times easier. Most people, when they’re starting out, have a lot of trouble with contamination. This is the tool that you need. And my goal is to produce one that’s the most affordable, compact, and approachable one on the market.
How much is it going to be?
This is starting at $395, which is about half of the price of most of the units of comparable size that are currently on the market right now.
Can I buy one?
You certainly can, but unfortunately, the fans are back-ordered for like almost a year because of supply chain disruptions. If you want one, you better get on it. There’s only about, I think, two dozen or so that I can build before I’ve got to wait for that time to come back around.
So how much square footage does one of those fans cover? Does it matter?
The idea of a laminar flow hood is basically that you’re only utilizing the space immediately in front of the filter. This is obviously very small. In my lab, you know, I have much larger units. But since, generally speaking, you’re only actually working with very small petri dishes. This is actually sufficient for just about anything you would be doing starting out.