This week I’m excited and honored to bring you two very exciting Kickstarter Alerts! for campaigns in the Twin Cities this month. Two urban ag businesses are running campaigns to expand the availability of locally grown gourmet mushrooms to restaurants, co-ops and farmers markets around the Twin Cities area.
Today I’m happy to share Locavore Q & A from Jeremy McAdams of Cherry Tree House Mushrooms (CTHM). Their Kickstarter aims to raise $20,000 by the end of this month to “Locafy our Fungi” and build a shiitake fruiting house at the Ham Lake farm. I caught up with Jeremy at the Mill City Farmer’s Market to talk more about CTHM and their campaign:
Tell us about your Kickstarter and what can locavores expect from the campaign?
I grow several varieties of mushrooms, but Shiitake are the most popular. They can be very productive, but you need the right environment for the greatest production and quality. Oyster, Nameko and most other varieties of log-grown mushrooms just grow when the temperature is right (all “volunteers,” there is no force-fruiting with them). Shiitake thrive in a protected space, free from direct sunlight and too much wind, and they want a certain humidity and temperature. To create this environment I’ve been fruiting them in canopy tents. I started with one tent, which was fine, but as the farm has grown I’ve had to add another and another. I have three tents now and will need dozens more if I’m going to be able to grow the farm as I’d like to in the next few years. A better alternative is a single hoophouse – since it will stand up better to snow and rain, will last longer than fruiting tents, will facilitate movement of logs better, and will allow better control of the environment.
Here’s CTHM’s Kickstarter video:
Last year I harvested 1500 pounds of mushrooms, mostly shiitake. With the help of a new hoop house, I hope to ramp up to 9,000 pounds of mushrooms in the next few years. We need to grow to become a more profitable business, but also so that we can bring more local mushrooms to the Twin Cities area. At this point the vast majority of shiitake come in from Oregon and Pennsylvania; why can’t we grow our own here?
Besides growing over 100 percent for the next few years, we have lots of other projects to improve CTHM! In addition to growing Shiitake and continuing to grow some Oyster and Nameko, I’ve been working with some other varieties including Birch Polypore, Lion’s Mane, Wood Ear, and Reishi. I’m looking at how to grow mushrooms year-round, how to make our production even more local, how to reduce waste and pollute less, even how to source our own logs and bring in other crops!
How did Cherry Tree House Mushrooms come about? Which came first, the interest in growing mushrooms or wanting an urban ag business to support the Twin Cities local food movement?
My interest in mushroom cultivation really started in 2008 when I went to a Bioneers conference. One of the workshops was by Paul Stamets (the world-renowned mushroom guru). I was really taken by what Stamets said about mycelium as a tool for soil and water remediation, but equally the culinary and medicinal uses of mushrooms. The first thing I did was to get one of those tabletop mushroom kits that looks something like a giant marshmallow. It produced one or two small crops of shiitakes. The kit was supposed to grow more shiitake, but that didn’t matter so much; I was hooked on mushroom cultivation at that point and already exploring other avenues for growing. I tried growing some oysters on straw in plastic bags, but without success.
This discouraged me from bag cultivation, but I was uncomfortable with the idea of using so many plastic bags anyway, so I worked on the next idea. That was to buy 100 four-foot logs and inoculate them with mushroom seed or “spawn.” That project worked. One September morning we stepped into the back yard and saw mushrooms growing on the logs. It was like a miracle. There was definitely no going back after that. As the mushroom farm grew, I’ve gotten connected with more and more urban farmers and customers, and we’ve become more and more a part of the Twin Cities local food movement as we grow more mushrooms that we sell at a wider variety of venues, as we’ve expanded to other products like log kits and mushroom foods, and as we employ more people to help.
It’s cool that you got started at home. What would you recommend be the first steps if a locavore wanted to try growing mushrooms?
A fun way to get started is to grow some mushrooms in your yard. Wine caps (aka King Stropharia) are a very prolific mushroom that grow on a mix of soil and wood chips. Mix this with the wine cap mushroom spawn under your tomatoes or squash, cover with a layer of straw, and wait for the mushrooms! They will take only a few months to fruit and they are prolific. Personally I don’t appreciate the flavor, but many people do.
If you want a tastier mushroom, try a log kit! You can pick one up from me at the Mill City Farmers Market, or you can buy one from Egg|Plant Farm Supply or Mother Earth Gardens. Our log kits come with instructions, but if you’d like a bit more direction – or if you’d like to learn more about mushroom cultivation, take one of my mushroom cultivation workshops. In my mushroom basics workshop, I introduce different types of mushroom cultivation and the life-cycle of mycelium, and folks get a chance to inoculate their own oyster log kit to grow out at home. I also teach a shiitake class – always at my farm – so that folks get a chance to get a good look at a working shiitake farm and they get to see a log inoculation, and learn plenty of trade secrets!
My mushroom basics workshops are always in the spring and I usually have one each with Egg|Plant Farm Store, the Seward, Mississippi Market, and Linden Hills co-ops, and PRI. The PRI workshop is at my farm and is followed up by a shiitake workshop. This year I still have workshops coming up on April 19th at Mississippi Market, April 26th at Linden Hills, and May 3rd with PRI. I’ll also be teaching an extra workshop this year specifically for Kickstarter backers who request that reward.
(Oh – and a word to the wise: many people ask about growing mushrooms in a basement. Don’t do it! Mushrooms require moisture and humidity which would lead to a moldy basement in no time!)
Where can we try out your mushrooms both on our own or local restaurants?
We sell mushrooms at the Mill City Farmers Market in downtown Minneapolis during the summer (our first day is May 10th!). We also regularly sell to Seward Co-op, Mississippi Market, and the Wedge. And there are a number of restaurants that use my mushrooms in their recipes: Birchwood Café, The Gray House, and The Craftsman. There are also three CSAs this summer that have a mushroom add-on with my mushrooms (Stone’s Throw, Bossy Acres, and Growing Lots).
What is your favorite way to prepare Cherry Tree House Mushrooms?
Mushrooms can be used in a lot of recipes. Grill them, sauté them, or bake them. Add them to quiche, pasta, stew – and top polenta, steak, or burgers. I provide a new recipe every week at the Farmers Market and I also include recipes with our mushroom CSA shares. My favorite is probably mushroom bruschetta. Sauté a handful of fresh de-stemmed and chopped mushrooms in olive oil with garlic, then top a toasted baguette with the sautéed mushrooms and plenty of grated parmesan. I like to use this recipe when I get home late from the farm. It takes about ten minutes to prepare, and it’s delicious!
Besides your mushrooms, what locally grown item can you not live without?
We like to eat everything as local as possible, but I would say it would be the most difficult to live without local eggs – and I mean super local. We have a flock of chickens in our backyard so we’ve had our own source of eggs and meat since 2009. I think of our food coming first from our own yard, then from farmers in the city, then from farmers regionally, and then from places beyond that.
One of the most amazing meals is one where either you grew most of the ingredients or you know the farmer who did.
Anything else Minnesota Locavores should know about your mushrooms?
I’d like to encourage locavores to try out mushrooms like shiitake or oysters, and particularly those grown on logs. Mushrooms can stand alone as the centerpiece of a delicious meal, since they are protein rich, but they are also rich in vitamins, antioxidants, antivirals, and many claim that varieties like shiitake can prevent cancer! In short, mushrooms like shiitake that many of us are discovering are part of a balanced diet – and they can now be found locally!
Any mushroom grown locally means that it doesn’t have to be shipped here from Oregon, Pennsylvania, or even Korea! Still, log grown mushrooms have been shown to have more nutritional value than those grown on other materials like sawdust, woodchips, or straw. Furthermore, they require less energy to produce and don’t require nearly as much plastic to grow. But we have to come back to taste; shiitake grown on logs just taste delicious – rich and robust with lots of umami!