Season 1, Episode 04

A Mushrooming Business From Home

Donna Sanders headshot and byline.
soccer ball on field

Picture this: Long ago and far away (actually 1997, Tampa, FL) a group of boys ran onto a soccer field. Then life happened and those boys grew into men. What does this have to do with mushrooms? Absolutely nothing.

Or does it?

You met Joe Iovino in Season 1, Episode 4 of Where The Food Comes From . I had the pleasure of interviewing him recently to get his thoughts on the filming day and the show. The interview did not go as I planned, but whatever does. What transpired was one man’s heart-filled story of how he got to where he is today, and another man who was an inspiration. I corralled Joe as he was driving to his new farm, compliments of Zoom, and so it begins.

While checking his social media accounts a year or so ago, Joe saw a weird question left by a visitor: “Is this Joe Iovino from the soccer team?”

A little taken aback Joe realized the message came from his youth soccer coach. Experiencing a “whirlwind of feelings,” Joe answered. During their following telephone chat, Joe recalls, “Coach explained what he has been focusing on and how it aligned with what I was doing. He said, ‘It would be really cool to film an episode about you.’ That was how it began.”

Figure out yet who Coach was?

Slowly, I am seeing more episodes being filmed. I have found people react very differently. We deal with extremely nervous types or some, believe it or not, who are indifferent. Personally, I don’t quite get that one. Doesn’t everyone want to be on TV? Joe had many emotions that day, not a surprise to me because I also know him and have for a while.

Joe explains, “I enjoyed making it because any publicity for my small farm is a big deal. It helps. But, I also enjoyed it because I got to show Chip what I had been up to. The way he presented it was cool. When you are a firefighter and you tell people you are starting a mushroom farm they almost laugh and think you’re silly. It sounds dumb until it’s not,” Joe says.

“A lot of sacrifice is going into this and it is nice to be validated by having such a well-produced show highlighting it. For me it helps legitimize the farm. There was so much negativity surrounding it. People would ask, like, why are you starting a mushroom farm, that’s kind of odd, and is it going to work? People root for you, but deep down you can see it. They wear it on their faces and you can tell they think it is stupid.

Lions mane mushrooms growing on Joe's farm.

Lions mane mushrooms growing on Joe's farm.

“It sounded stupid in my head too, but I am one of those clowns who believes and dreams. I really do believe I can do it all. Anything I want, and I believe it! And that stems from Coach and growing up with the soccer team. So it was rewarding to share the episode with Chip because it all ties into things he taught me. I was never this confident as a kid, it was being on his team. And that sounds stupid, but the team was a complete freak show, in the best way. Millions of people played soccer growing up, but how many formed life-long relationships and stuff like that? We are unique and special and that’s what made the episode special. To be validated and have that show filmed is nice for publicity, but even better for my soul.”

Frankly, I am not sure if that truly answered the question, but the sentiment cannot be replaced. To think relationships from 25 years ago can continue to have such an impact and, I might add, on more than one of those young men on that soccer field – one of them being my son Craig!

During most shows bloopers happen or there is a funniest moment. This was not the case with Joe. As you can tell, Coach and Joe had a special relationship during his formative years. Joe just wanted to “talk with Coach” and find out about what else was going on, but he had to put on his “Cactus Mushroom Hat” and do the interview.” Still, he says, “It was just a good time.”


Chip and Joe in Cactus Hat Laboratory.

In my former life as a college nursing teacher, I was always looking for a shock factor to get a point across. Joe calls that same thing “the wow factor”. When asked his favorite thing about the episode, other than reuniting with Coach, Joe said “I enjoyed ‘the wow factor’. I love showing people how wacky it is that you can grow these gourmet mushrooms and most people have not seen these mushrooms in the first place. So to see somebody convert their house into a mushroom farm and grow these alien mushrooms is interesting. It was fun to see the crew’s and Chip’s reaction.”

So what’s next for this young man?

Joe has left the fire department to become a full-time mushroom farmer. He and his wife have purchased a 5-acre plot of property in Brooksville, FL. For the moment the only thing on the land is a trailer, the future home of the Iovinos until their house is built. Once the slabs are laid, water running, and electricity buzzing, he will have a 3,000 square foot growing room able to produce 3,500 pounds of mushrooms a month all under one roof.

What’s next? Joe says, “We will be beginning a boot camp where people can come in and learn to grow mushrooms commercially for profit. The trailer that’s our temporary home will eventually be where the mentees can stay for the week they are there. Not an original idea, many commercial farmers do this, but I feel I can do it better. I learned how to teach a little from Coach and build confidence.”

One other neat note? That soccer team that was so pivotal in the life of Joe Iovino and many others? I was the Team Mom. And I think now, same as I did then, the sky is the limit for this young man — one day he may well launch the first mushroom farm on Mars!

Joe with wife and son.

Joe with wife Barbara and son Rowan