As part of our ongoing NYC Farmers’ Market Interview series, Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center interviewed Joe Rizzo, Owner of Blue Oyster Cultivation. To learn more about this series or to watch other interviews, visit this page.
My name is Joe Rizzo, I’m the owner of Blue Oyster Cultivation Mushroom farm.
FPC: Where did you grow up and what is your background?
Joe: I grew up in South Jersey, all the way down south of Philadelphia, just outside the city. I went to high school there, and I joined the Navy after high school, then ended up going to LSU. I graduated from LSU, then started teaching in Brooklyn, botany, and life science that sort of thing.
FPC: How did you get into farming?
Joe: Originally my family used to have a farm in South Jersey, and in my 20s I would drive their truck back and forth, I would do the greenmarkets for them, back in the mid-90s. So I was kind of familiar of the markets through them. Then after I decided to stop teaching, I left the city and started the farm up in Ithaca.
FPC: Why mushrooms?
Joe: Mushrooms? I was growing them with the students in after school clubs, and there are hardly any mushroom farms (definitely not when I started)
FPC: Why the name “Blue Oyster Cultivation”?
Joe: One of the oysters I grow is the blue oyster mushroom, and you know I think it’s just kind of a funny name. Not everybody gets it though.
FPC: What’s the best thing about participating in the NYC green market
Joe: Well there’s a lot of good things about it. They are really good markets, real busy. The customers are usually pretty appreciative. It’s nice bringing something here that’s not generally found here other than at the markets. I’ve done other greenmarkets in the past but I just do 2 days at union square now, plus I do the Ithaca farmers markets.
FPC: What’s special about your product?
Joe: Well I think the quality can’t be touched. I grow a lot of different types of species that you won’t see anywhere else.
PFC: How many hours per week do you put into farming?
Joe: These days probably 80/90 hours
FPC: What’s your favorite food?
Joe: If I had to choose one, probably pizza right? Pizza with mushrooms! I eat kale a lot, I eat cauliflower a lot but maybe blueberries or raspberries.
FPC: What time do you wake up?
Joe: On market days I set the alarm at 1am.
FPC: What’s one word you’d use to describe the US food system?
Joe: Varied, I guess. Diverse.
FPC: What’s your proudest farming moment?
Joe: Probably being asked to come to the Saturday Union Square Market. It seems to me that it’s the best one there is.
FPC: Anything to say to the audience?
Joe: Eat more mushrooms!