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Vermonter shares new furniture line grown from mushrooms - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vermonter shares new furniture line grown from mushrooms

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

Would you stand on a stepstool made out of mushrooms?

One Vermonter says his company is taking "green" furniture literally.

The stools and chairs on a table at UVM don't look anything like fungi, but it's at the root of each piece.

"People don't realize all the things you can do with a mushroom. As of today, I now know you can make furniture. It's awesome," said Joanna Piasecki, visitor. 

"If we didn't talk about it being made from mushrooms, you probably wouldn't know," said Eben Bayer, Ecovative CEO and co-founder. 

Bayer is the man behind Mushroom Materials. He grew up on a farm in Bethel. In college, he was tasked with finding a sustainable alternative to plastic. That grew into a business, banking on a part of the mushroom most people have never heard of, the mycelium or mushroom roots.

"It's a really versatile living plastic. And the insight at Ecovative was to see that not as a food you could eat, but as a glue you could grow," said Bayer.

Years ago, before particle board and furniture were in the crosshairs, Ecovative set their sights on on packing products to take on Styrofoam. 

"Today, we can practically guarantee that yesterday's packaging is going to be here in 10,000 years," said Bayer, at a Ted Talk event in 2010. 

Bayer pitched his idea of mushrooms as an alternative. That was three years after he co-founded Ecovative, and it was the first time he'd talked about their process with the public making innovative packing material that you could compost.

"We had just built our first manufacturing line and we had just started shipping our first commercial product. It was new to the world," said Bayer.

Fast forward six years and Ecovative now has two manufacturing facilities in New York. Inside, workers take plant-based waste from farms, clean it and introduce the mycelium. Then, they let it sit for a few days to grow in a shape and then it's dried to keep it from producing spores or mushrooms. For furniture, heat and pressure create the boards. It'll stay that way until it's exposed to water or living organisms, then it will decompose so these are for indoor use only. Bayer likens it to an unfinished piece of wood.

"People really want to have healthy, safe materials around them," said Bayer.

Technically, it's also edible, but you won't see them sampling it out here. Bayer says, they strongly discourage eating it because it's non-nutritious and tastes awful as one student found out.

"It wasn't very good, I don't think I'd have another piece. But that's why it's meant to sit on and not eat," said Lucas Austin, UVM senior. 

Ecovative is banking on replacing particle board. Bayer says the company is bringing in multi-million dollar revenues and expanding. He's hoping to bring business back to his home state by opening a plant in Bennington early next year.

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