Full Circle Mushrooms Implements Regenerative Plan for Pecan Grower
By Shahid Mustafa · Photos by Stephanie Cameron
Above: Young black pearl mushrooms.
Ximena Zamacona, in her words, believes that agriculture can be “a part of the problem, as well as a part of the solution.” A chemist who also minored in agriculture, and who has worked in high-tech greenhouses producing tomatoes and other vegetables, Zamacona started Full Circle Mushrooms in La Mesa in September 2019, first with trials and then full production beginning in January 2020. Nestled in the heart of the historic orchards of Stahmanns Pecans off of Highway 28, Full Circle Mushrooms currently offers four different types of specialty mushrooms: black pearl, oyster, lion’s mane, and shiitake. Zamacona, who moved to the Las Cruces area in early 2019 after living in various Southwestern cities, is originally from Santiago de Querétaro in central Mexico. She has always had a strong connection to the environment, and minored in agriculture “to better understand and become more deeply connected.”
Zamacona’s goal is to help reduce the carbon footprint at Stahmanns while expanding and creating greater capacity to produce mushrooms. Pruning is a necessary annual requirement of pecan farming, and the branches left behind are generally considered waste. Some farmers burn their wood, and some chip and compost their wood, but due to the density and lignin structure of the pecan wood, it takes a long time to biodegrade. Because of this quality, pecan wood makes an excellent substrate for growing mushrooms because mushrooms love hardwood. By creating a substrate of mostly pecan wood, along with other agricultural byproducts such as soybean hulls, Full Circle is able to avoid importing substrate from distant sources. It also satisfies Zamacona’s commitment to environmental stewardship. “I hated seeing the wood just being burned, plus this is a great way to recycle it,” she says.
When I recently visited her production site, she gave me a tour of her facilities, where it was apparent how many controls have to be in place in order to commercially produce specialty mushrooms in the desert. As producers, we are often faced with the challenge of reducing our environmental impact while still being able to create the necessary conditions for production. Zamacona’s experience in high-tech greenhouse production and chemistry have obviously helped her design and develop systemic protocols, and because she believes that “we should be working with nature, and not against it,” she has deliberately instituted regenerative practices as part of Full Circle’s operations. In efforts to further reduce the operation’s carbon footprint, Zamacona has also begun the process of building an on-site composting facility that will incorporate spent substrate, worms for vermicomposting, and, hopefully, spent materials from local breweries and coffee roasters. She says the goal is to “close the circle” by creating high-quality compost that can be used on the farm.
Above left: Inoculated mushroom bags. Above right: Ximena Zamacona with oyster mushrooms.
Zamacona’s work is benefiting from a growing interest in mushrooms, which I witnessed firsthand while working as a natural foods retail operator for twenty-five years. From simple white button varieties to portobello, shiitake, and oyster, there has been a steady increase in produce-case shelf space for culinary mushrooms. Recent interest in plant-based diets, high-antioxidant superfoods, and the growing development of “foodie” culture seems to have elevated the gourmet status of and culinary interest in mushrooms. They are also valued by vegans because they are the only vegan, non-fortified dietary source of vitamin D, as well as several minerals that are hard to obtain from a vegan diet, such as copper, iron, selenium, potassium, and phosphorus. Mushrooms are fat free, low sodium, low calorie, and cholesterol free, so it’s hard to go wrong with mushrooms in the diet.
According to mycologist Paul Stamets, “Mushrooms have many helpful nutrients, including beta-glucans for immune enhancement, ergothioneine for antioxidative potentiation, nerve-growth stimulators for helping brain function, and antimicrobial compounds for limiting viruses.” The vitamin and supplement industry has taken notice of mushrooms in a major way, offering them in capsules and powders, as well as integrating them into blends associated with performance and wellness. Mushrooms’ beta-glucans (a polysaccharide carbohydrate) has been found to help reduce inflammation and balance the immune system. Also, they are rich in antioxidants that protect from the oxidative damage of environmental toxins. I happened to discover the benefits of mushrooms when I began training for a marathon. I was given a sample bottle of cordyceps mushrooms and told they would help provide energy. I immediately noticed an increase in my stamina, and as I researched them, I learned that they are touted for their blood-oxygenating properties. I’ve since found other things to do with my time than running for four hours a day, but I still take cordyceps supplements for wellness and prevention.
Zamacona’s agricultural vision is a cultural one as well. According to Zamacona, Full Circle Mushrooms intends to be recognized as a woman-owned company. Her website states: “[Full Circle] is proudly and unapologetically woman-owned and I hope to set an image and an example for future generations of girls.” With a full-circle approach that is social minded and focused on the health of both body and environment, Zamacona is demonstrating that agriculture can indeed be part of the solution.