Florida’s Fireman, Father, Farmer, Joseph Iovino, is a man of action. Cactus Hat Mushrooms is Tampa’s premier supplier, paving the wave with the freshest Fair Trade Organic Sumatra Gayo Coffee on the market with more Lion’s Mane in it than any other in the United States. His commitment and mission to living a healthy lifestyle have spread like mycelium, benefiting others in South Florida. So, when he realized the taste and health benefits from fresh mushrooms compared to store-bought mushrooms, he was on a new mission.
Totally amped to tour Joseph’s home-based mushroom farm, my mind boggled in awe over the gold nuggets he disclosed. He shared how he got going on his venture, dos, and don’ts, industry secrets, and much more! Iovino began eight years ago growing mushrooms casually, “and then it turned into some extravagant thing that I soon realized is way more in demand than I ever thought it would be. So as a hobbyist, I started playing around with creating spawn and stuff like that. Buying cultures from different vendors and trying to grow them and failing miserably. Then eventually getting a pressure cooker and started just working my way up.”
“It’s been booming for ages.” Joe boasts, “It’s like going to be the next Orlando the way things are looking!” Three years ago, his passion soared, and he finally got to his fungi groove. After checking out what other mushroom growers in the states were doing, he realized that mushrooms were huge, “I had no idea that they were anything though. It was just fun growing Lion’s Mane and Oysters. And they’re supposed to be healthy?! I didn’t realize there was a movement happening. Right? I was too busy just enjoying the process.” He smiles. He was smart, looked at the market, realized nobody in Tampa offered fresh, exotic mushrooms, and jumped on it.
Cactus Hat is a nickname for Lutz, where Joesph, his wife, and his son live just outside of Tampa. Around 2005, a particular strain of cactus started growing all over locally crazy, randomly. As if somebody drove around trolling, planting cactuses everywhere, and it just spread like wildfire. Since Lutz is north of Tampa, locals call it the Cactus Hat, which is how they got the name for the company. For the Iovino’s, it has been great, it’s been an extraordinary journey, and it has completely taken over all of Joseph’s free time.
“You said you started as a hobbyist. What were you doing at the time for work?” I asked.
After getting his firefighter and paramedic certification, he started his now 12-year career right away. He works the traditional 24-hour shift with the following 48 hours (2 days) off. Firefighters, typically, with this schedule, get secondary jobs. Most firefighters have secondary jobs like landscaping or pressure washing during those two days off. He shares, “I just happened to turn the mushroom hobby into a business during my free time. Now it’s all about cultivating, making deliveries, block production, spawned production. Every day is filled. I’m lucky if I get a Sunday off. I try my best to have everything done by then, so I could actually stay in enjoy my family for a bit.” He works at home during his two days off, raising his two-year-old son.
I asked Joseph if this was all a one-man show. He replied, “No, this is actually a four-person operation. Me and three others.” They’re all part-time. But without them, Cactus Hat would not have grown to what it is, without a doubt. The business would have had success, but it would have taken much longer, especially having a two-year-old running around. There is a lot going on in the Iovino house, and without additional hands, things would just be inching along.
Joe’s secret to juggling everything was to not worry about being super-efficient. “I think a lot of people get hung up on like, the whole time management thing. You just need to do it.” He does what it takes to get the job done. Although growers are supposed to be as clean as possible in the lab, toys often pop up from time to time. If his toddler must join him in the lab from here and there, so be it. It’s all about having fun while getting the job done, Father and Son, together.
There is no secret. According to Iovoni, there’s never been a special magic trick to becoming a mushroom expert. To Joseph, it’s simply all about working hard and that for anyone who wants to start a mushroom farm, it gets to a point where there’s no other way around the fact that you are going to be busy. You have to step up to the plate, and you have to do it. At Cactus Hat Farm, plotting, planning, and aiming to stick to a schedule doesn’t fly. Joe urges fellow farmers to “throw it out the window. Nothing makes sense. Everything is going to break, nothing’s going to go according to plan. Just do the work, and you’ll be fine.”
“Really. I wish there were some secret. But I’m successful because I’m working hard, and probably harder than the other farms around.” This work ethic makes Joseph more confident in his ability. He knows that nobody’s going to outdo him, so he’s just going to keep keeping on.