When snowbird Jim Shaffer emigrated from his frigid Michigan roots to the warm breezes of the Coachella Valley, the only thing he really missed was finding fresh mushrooms to satisfy his love for fungi. After spending a few hundred hours on YouTube, he created his own farm in a spare bedroom, and within three years, his Canyon Creek Mushrooms could hardly keep up with the desert demand.

The one-room operation started in 2019, when Shaffer built his first fruiting room in his garage, followed by an incubation room and a lab. What was just meant to be a source of fresh fungi for family and friends, Canyon Creek Mushrooms outgrew its garage-based farm and moved into its current 4,500-square-foot
facility in Palm Desert in 2021.

“When most people think of mushrooms, they think of dark caves and manure; that’s so not us,” Shaffer tells L.A. Weekly in the sterile climate-controlled fruitingchamber located in an industrial section of the Washington Business Park. 

“The toughest thing about growing mushrooms in the desert is when the humidity spikes in the desert, it really mucks with our control system,” he says. “The hardest part is managing the climate here when the environment outside can be so variable. We can be in the 50s in the winter and 120 degrees in the summer, so heating and cooling are a big challenge. We have to pre-mix the air in a special chamber. Another challenge is the fine particulate dust from the desert that has to be filtered out, which carries other bacteria.”

Because they cultivate indoors in a climate-controlled environment, Canyon Creek Mushrooms produces 11 different types of fungi year-round, including Black King, Pink Oyster, Chestnut, Elm Oyster, King Trumpet, Lion’s Mane and Pioppino. Its stunning Brown Oyster can be found at one of Palms Springs’ best
restaurants, Workshop Kitchen and Bar, chicken-fried with bread and butter pickle, buttermilk sauce, spiced honey and a Parker House roll.

The tree-based mushrooms are grown on a certified hardwood substrate, specifically produced for cultivation, which is supplemented with soy hulls and sorghum grain. The substrate is completely sterilized in a steamer made from a horse trough at 214 degrees for 24 hours to eliminate any foreign spores or bacteria. The total time from inoculation to fruiting for most strains is about three weeks. Mushrooms are harvested every day and delivered the same day.

“I was just growing them for fun and all of a sudden the word got out,” says Shaffer. “I got a call from my first restaurant, Giant Rock Meeting Room in Yucca Valley, and then heard from my first farmers market in Twentynine Palms. Workshop Kitchen and Bar has been a customer since the beginning. I knew nothing about mushrooms three and a half years ago, other than I liked them and I missed them.”

Since then, the funky hippy farm inside the business park has expanded to retail that includes everything from mushroom jerky and powders to fresh and dried fungi, with DIY kits on the way. Shaffer’s operation can be found at farmers markets throughout the Coachella Valley, including Palm Springs and La Quinta,
as well as the best restaurants in the desert like Bar Cecil, Copley’s, Truss & Twine, The Farm, Two Bunch Palms and Daniel’s Table in Cathedral City.  

Desert Fungi: Canyon Creek Mushrooms Are Feeding The Coachella Valley

Michele Stueven