Who We Are?

Avery Stempel

(Founder and Primary Pleurotus of Collar City Mushrooms)

Mushrooms have long occupied a place of mystery and intrigue at the fringes of my psyche.   From watching Saturday morning cartoon smurfs frolic through their forests and playing Super Mario Brothers on Nintendo in the 80’s, to wandering the mountains of the catskills as a lumberjack in the 90’s, and now foraging the wildernesses of my local region and growing them myself, I have immersed myself in the world of the fungi at all stages of my life.  The more I learn about them, the more the intrigue expands, and the deeper the mystery evolves.  Our fungi kingdom neighbors are amazing life forms.  They can be used to create packaging for shipping equipment, as tools to expand consciousness, and as bioremediators of environmentally toxic brown sites.  They have also offered themselves up to be consumed as nourishing food and natural medicines.  There are so many different kinds of mushrooms, each with their own special niche in how they interact with the environment and benefits that are reaped when they are consumed.  Collar City Mushrooms is going to be growing and selling mushrooms for consumption, but also providing a space for people to become educated about the fantastic world of fungi.  I hope you stop in and say hi.

Amy Hood

(Logistics and Reality Check)

From a very young age I was intrigued by mushrooms. Exploring local nature preserves I would take pictures of everything and return home to find out what they were. This spurred me to pick up all of the mushroom books I could find.  Eventually I had the opportunity to grow shiitake mushrooms on hardwood logs in a friend’s forested plot in Knox, NY. It’s now been almost a decade and I’m still growing. Several years ago Avery and I met Ed Braley and we went on foraging adventures in the various forests around the Capital Region. These walks empowered me and gave me the courage to consume many of the mushrooms I’d been finding for years, but never harvesting.  During the last few months, while the Coronavirus Crisis raged, I enjoyed expanding my mushroom cultivation knowledge even further with science exploration nights with Ian and Avery.  I’m looking forward to growing the mycelium even further as we become an indoor urban mushroom farm!

Ian Longthon

(Resident Fun Guy)

Mushrooms were one of my first obsessions.  I was fascinated by their many strange and seemingly alien forms. As a kid I would spend hours exploring the woods, carefully collecting all sorts of fungi and then returning to my parents, excited to share my discoveries. These early adventures fostered a great respect for nature in me. I saw that everything had a place as a part of the whole, working together to keep a perfect balance. I’d often wonder if our species could find a way to stay in balance and if  I could do anything to help. Though mushroom collecting was put on the back burner to make way for other hobbies as I grew, my interest never faded. If my friends or family needed gift ideas for birthdays or holidays, they knew something mushroom related was always a safe bet.  My interest in growing gourmet mushrooms was sparked after being offered a mushroom “crab cake” that perfectly mimicked the taste and texture of real seafood and having spent some time as a chef at a seafood restaurant I was amazed! It seemed natural that I should pick up the hobby when I learned that the skills I had been honing for over a decade working in various tissue culture laboratories and clean rooms was exactly the skill set required to grow mushrooms. 

Working with mushrooms has been a wonderful journey of discovery.  From growing them with a store bought kit, to cloning and isolating my favorite strains in petri dishes, the more I’ve learned about the potential of fungi as food, as medicine and even as a building material the more passionate I have become. With mushrooms being used to bioremediate contaminated soil and even to “eat” plastic it no longer seems quite so impossible that I could help bring a little balance to the world. At Collar City Mushrooms I hope to be able to share my passion with the rest of the world and to use my talents to bring something valuable (and delicious!) to our community.

Peter J. Raponi

(Chief Financial Officer)

Growing up, my extent of mushroom knowledge was from Super Mario Brothers, you ate it and you got bigger. The end.
When walking around in the woods during my adolescent years, I knew that mushrooms grew in the wild and that half were poisonous and, with my luck, I was better off just leaving them alone.
Later on, I knew that portabellas were delicious when grilled. I had, quite frankly, very limited mushroom knowledge. This all changed when I met Avery.

And when Avery started talking about Collar City Mushrooms and the possibility of starting something that could impact our community and world in such profound ways, I needed to learn more. And I did just that. I dove into the world of mushrooms.


I foraged, cooked, and learned about mushrooms. I grew to understand the nutritional and medicinal properties of mushrooms (mostly thanks to Avery). Utilizing mushrooms for food, health, and energy made them a central part of my life. I never thought I would eat mushrooms instead of drinking a cup of coffee or taking a pill, but there are endless possibilities for which fungi can be used. It’s now my goal to share fungi’s gift with the community.


I was born and raised in Guilderland, NY and graduated from Siena College with a degree in Accounting. I am committed to the Capital District Region and aim to help the place where I grew grow further.


When offered the position of CFO, I knew I could not say no. I am excited for what the future has in store for Collar City Mushroom and for what Collar City can do for Troy, the state of New York, and beyond.

Nick Waunsch

(Mycelial Maestro)

I like Music and I like Mushrooms.

Jacqueline Kirkpatrick

(Marketing)

I love Avery. That was step one.

I love social media and marketing and in my full time job – that’s what I do. That was step two.

I know what mushrooms are and am willing to Google how to spell the names of them all. That was step three.

I support and love the Collar City. That was step four.

Adding those steps together = joining Collar City Mushrooms. I want to watch and help Avery, his team, the mushrooms, and the city of Troy ~ blossom!

Bree Morehead

(Mushroom Travel Coordinator)

As long as I can remember I’ve never been a “chicken” of the woods, always creating the perfect opportunity to fall in love and learn from nature.

My family planted the ideas within me about how powerful yet delicate nature is, and from there my love for mushrooms grew. It started by looking for “fairy (mushroom) rings” and then blossomed into the obsession I have today for mushrooms. My parents got me my first log and a few months later I met the most welcoming, friendly people Avery and Amy.

 A mushroom’s power is so uniquely fascinating. The potential to help our planet and future generations with mushrooms is apparent.  I’m so grateful for the opportunity to not only take part but also learn from such a strong, unique, and knowledgeable team. I’ve learned so much so far and am ecstatic to share my knowledge with others and to keep learning! I’m so thankful to have joined the amazing team at Collar City Mushrooms.

Kaya Rifenberg-Stempel

(Volunteer Coordinator and Sustainability Advocate)

Kaya is dedicated to making the world a greener, more sustainable place in any way possible. She enjoys reading and eating chocolate, so she’s looking forward to the day that CCM develops some fancy, overpriced mushroom chocolates.

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