Story & Photos By Thumpah Lee
Holland’s largest legal psychoactive-mushroom farm was founded by two brothers—Ali and Murat—who’ve never personally sampled their own psychedelic produce. “We don’t have time for it,” Murat explains, although he and his partner did take time out to guide HIGH TIMES through a tour of Procare’s 45,000-square-foot facility, which includes an office, a laboratory and a nursery capable of producing 770,000 pounds of fresh mushrooms per year. The brothers are both of Turkish descent—Ali was born there, while Murat didn’t arrive until after his parents had moved the family to the Netherlands. It was Ali who made the first foray into the biz in 1986, helping to supervise the technical details of farm construction and mushroom production for foreign companies seeking cheap raw materials to feed their canning factories in the developing world.
“We’re talking about ordinary white mushrooms,” Murat says. “ That’s how we started.”
After a few up-and-down years working for large business interests and riding the whims of the commodities market, the brothers stumbled onto an alternative business plan when a friend approached them with Psilocybe mexicana spores he’d found in Amsterdam. Relying on his past breeding experience, Ali got his hands on an empty aquarium and went to work. The very first psychedelic mushroom to emerge was given to the friend who found the spores for sampling purposes. His response—“Oh, shit! This is outrageous! This is everything, and you have to do this!”—was enough to convince the brothers to fill another aquarium, and another, until eventually they converted Murat’s daughter’s bedroom into a fully functioning lab space/grow house.
“We had to find as many aquariums as we could, so I drove around and collected them from people whose fish had died,” Murat jokes. In reality, he learned the schedule when the trash collectors came to pick up larger household items and went driving around the night before. “Like a real aquarium hunter,” his brother adds with a laugh.
They started out growing one- to two-kilo batches of fresh mushrooms and drying them, ending up with only 100 to 200 grams of finished produce (since mushrooms are 92 percent water). Their first transaction came when they sold the mushrooms to that same friend somewhere in a parking lot. Both brothers were quickly convinced that this was the way to go, despite the fact that they weren’t really sure if it was legal or illegal to be growing these kinds of mushrooms. So, like others in the industry, they kept their operations “underground.” It wasn’t until the Dutch government raided another mushroom farm somewhere else in Holland that they finally studied up on the law and realized that it was in fact legal to grow them, but illegal to dry them or process them in any way.