Starting a mushroom business on Oahu seems worlds away from scaling a fermentation lab in Silicon Valley. But for Elijah Crow, the connection is clear.
“Mushroom farming is fermentation — it’s just solid-state fermentation,” he says, “and the goal is the same: turning a feedstock into a valuable commodity.”
And in the Hawaiian Islands, oyster mushrooms are a rare commodity. The delicate fungus has a short shelf life and can’t last the long ship ride from the mainland. But the island has plenty of renewable feedstocks that oyster mushrooms thrive on, including used sugar cane (bagasse), coffee grinds, and cacao shells — things that would otherwise be incinerated or take up precious agricultural land space.
“Over the next three years, my partner and I scaled the business up from operating out of a closet to a 4000-square-foot urban farm,” he says. His farm became the state’s second-largest specialty mushroom grower and first in direct-to-consumer mushroom products.
To paradise and back
Before Hawaii, Elijah earned dual degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Liberal Arts from his hometown University of San Diego. In Hawaii, he earned his MS in Biological Engineering from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The mushroom farm was Eli’s first success after college, and that firsthand experience in sustainably transforming a food ecosystem made him wonder what more he could do.
Ready to apply his learning and experience at a larger scale with more sophisticated science, Elijah returned to his native California and accepted a role as Research Associate at Mycoworks, which creates fine mycelium materials as a replacement for leather in high-end fashion design. He began in the mycology department and gravitated toward fermentation, where he was the developmental interface between liquid fermentation, solid-state fermentation, and scale.
When the chance to work with food systems at Shiru arose, Elijah was intrigued.
“I joined Shiru because I believe one of the biggest global opportunities we face is creating smarter systems to meet our food and water needs,” he says. “It’s of utmost importance to me that I’m able to be a part of creating a more sustainable future.”
In June, he joined Shiru as a Senior Research Associate in the Fermentation Team. Today, Elijah is designing and carrying out critical fermentation experiments to scale up Shiru’s proteins.
“Elijah’s background in solid-state fermentation is a fantastic addition to the team,” says David Melis, Shiru’s Director of Fermentation. “Besides being an outstanding team member, he’s just a passionate and charismatic person.”
Eli spends his free time with family, crafting unique seasonal cocktails, and experimenting with kitchen-bound ferments.
“In Oahu, I worked at one of the most renowned bars in Hawaii, where chemistry, culinary arts, and a culture of aloha all mixed together,” he says. “It combined many of my interests, and I loved making people of all backgrounds feel welcome and appreciated.”
Elijah’s most recent home fermentation project: a black bean tempeh made with a Rhizopus starter culture.