The Journey of Growing Mushrooms (The Garden International)
Mushrooms are by far one of my favorite ingredients to cook with. My love of them started with Creminis when I was a kid. I was also aware of the white buttons you might find sliced at a buffet salad bar, but beyond these two I did not know much others existed. As I entered the food industry my mind was expanded upon when I learned just how many types of mushrooms there were for culinary use.
My fascination for mushrooms is shared by many in the culinary community. From their amazing appearance, great flavor and awesome versatility they are a segment of ingredient that truly can elevate whatever dish they are added into. So when I found the team at The Garden International and their delicious mushrooms I had to learn more.
I met Liz Robinson and Corey Moore at the Fulton Farmer's Market in Fulton, MD. It was a warm June day and I had just come from writing at a coffee shop, hoping to pick up some local produce. I arrived around eleven in the morning and to my dismay they had already sold out of their mushrooms!
I started talking to Liz and Corey and they explained to me the work they were doing in regards to growing the mushrooms. Corey stressed the importance of holistic food items and I could see the passion at play for the two in regards to their business. It was then I decided to ask if I could interview them.
I met Corey and Liz at their facility and was immediately impressed. Their office space has this beautiful mural connecting their businesses: The Garden International and The Gift. The Gift focuses on whole plant crafted products and CBD items. The Garden is their business of selling mushrooms and mushroom grower kits. It is a blend of these two that we chat about in this blog.
Immediately the two tout the blessings and power that mushrooms and CBD hold. They also share getting the right information out there is so important. A major driving goal is to educate their customers and the public on what it is these two overlooked ingredients can do.
A few years ago Corey slipped on ice and was in severe pain. Liz looked into natural pain and recovery remedies, starting with turmeric and going from there. It was research into the application of CBD that ultimately helped Corey recover and that is when they decided they wanted to get into this business.
For mushrooms, the average consumer is undereducated on just how many varieties of edible mushrooms are out there. They are even more unaware on how difficult it can be to grow the beloved ingredients. I asked the two if they were intimidated at all by this large task of self education. "We take the time to educate ourselves and make sure we are properly prepared," shares Liz.
"We didn't know a thing!", exclaims Corey. The two entrepreneurial partners forged into their business with a passion to build and the humility needed to learn as much as possible. Liz shares it started with safety pre-cautions, such as respirator masks and a ventilated environment. "There is a lifetime of learning with mushrooms alone."
There is a cap on the type of mushrooms you can grow. The types of spores grown into fruit in the facility do matter, as you would not be able to grow a morel in this condition. So a fundamental understanding of what kind of mushroom can be grown was needed. Next was learning about the process itself.
To start growing mushrooms you need substrate. Substrate is pelletized oak and soy wholes that are mixed together. You need to rehydrate them, weigh them out, sterilize them, let them cool and once this is done you add the grain spawn. The grain spawn is mycelium and spores onto grains that is added to the medium in order to produce a mushroom.
Once this is added the bags are placed in an incubation tent for a week to eight weeks. "Shiitake takes a long time to grow out, Maitake can take up to six months." The variety of mushroom varies on its time to incubate. Liz also shares some varieties have not been grown commercially in the U.S .so they have had to look internationally for some harder to find details on types of mushrooms.
The incubation temperature is around 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Mushrooms are made up of around 90% moisture, so when they are passed to the fruiting tent the humidity is cranked up in order to create the right conditions. This is why you see mushrooms under logs or branches after a rain.
Once fruiting begins the mushrooms grow in cycles. You can over-fruit a mushroom, as the nutrients in its environment will be depleted leading to dryness or less structural integrity. Another factor to monitor is Co2 levels so that they provide the right characteristics. Under these conditions you can achieve two to three turns on each bag of mushrooms.
Once the medium of mushroom has finished fruiting, it can be used to recycle in garden beds or just in composting in general. Mushroom cultivation can be great for the environment when done right and yields a pretty awesome food source.
As I toured the facility the tables inside the tents seemed reminiscent of a surgical station. Mask, gloves and other utensils were there to help finish the work. Smoke billowed out of the fruiting tents as they opened and tubes of lights illuminated the spores and the growing mushrooms. It was part sci-fi and part urban agriculture and I loved it.
For those who have only had white button mushrooms, Liz and Corey challenge you to try some varieties. Corey loves cooking his mushrooms not only for flavor but also to yield the nutritional benefits of his varieties. Their palettes have evolved with the different types of fungi they grow and they want to share that with their customers. Some of their varieties include Blue Oyster, Pink Oyster, Lion's Mane, Pioppino and Nameko.
I asked Corey how long they have been at it, to which he responded: " I don't count, I just climb." But they have been at it for two years. They actually received a grant from Beyonce's "Beygood" foundation in 2020 and it helped them get established and grow significantly. They were one of the first businesses to receive it.
The two want to expand their farms, as they ship internationally. The hope is to create mushroom growing centers around the country. They also work with local schools to offer educational mushroom growing kits that students and teachers can use in classroom to learn about mushrooms. They want to expand their mushroom business and educate the next generation on the power of mushrooms.
I left the conversation with Liz and Corey with an immense amount of gratitude and feeling inspired. I also left with a ton of mushrooms. These two are why I love the food industry. They both sought out their purpose, the work they find passion in and have built it from the ground up. And they get to work in a pretty cool environment as well.
When I spoke with them back in July I could see the passion in their eyes and their drive to keep pushing forward. I admire them for the work they do and the goals they have. And I hope you take the time to visit their site: thegarden.farm. Thank you Liz and Corey for the interview and best of luck!