MUSHROOM FARMING // the local food report

Most farms operate on a familiar narrative: plant a seed, give it water and sunshine and nutrients, harvest a crop. As I recently learned, mushroom farming is a little more complicated. It has its own language—mycelium and hypha and primordia being key players. Once you speak it, it's not too tricky, but I had to haul out a dictionary at the beginning. 

The farm I visited was Nantucket Mushrooms in Chatham, a state of the art modern fungi farm recently relocated from the island. Wesley Price, the business manager and a passionate mycologist, and Troy Janusz, the farm manager, showed me around. The pictures you see up there are of one of the two 30 by 100 foot greenhouses and a big, beautiful king oyster mushroom.

Basically, the mushroom reproduction process works like this: you produce mycelium in a sterile lab. You can do this either using spores or tissue culture, and the difference between the two processes is essentially comparable to the difference between making a baby and making a clone. What you decide to do depends on what you're going for. 

Once you have mycelium—the vegetative part of a fungus made up of hyphae—you have to innoculate it into a growing medium. For two species—white and brown oyster mushrooms—the farm uses pasteurized straw—but for the majority it uses blocks made out of wood chips. The blocks are wrapped in plastic and kept in the greenhouse, where a fog machine adds plenty of humidity. Depending on the variety of mushrooms growing, the top of the bags are opened to encourage growth upward, or slits are cut in the sides of the bags to allow mushrooms to grow out horizontally. Each block can be fruited between three and five times depending on the species of mushroom growing, and then the process starts over. 

It's a pretty fascinating and technical process. 

The exciting news for eaters is that the farm grows twenty-two species of edible and medicinal mushrooms, and as farmers' markets open up in the next few months the mushrooms will be available at many different markets all over the Cape. Next week's Local Food Report will focus on all the different varieties they're growing...so stay tuned!


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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.