Behind the Scenes at Mushrooms Canada: The First Tour

This morning I get the opportunity to take the newest member of the Mushrooms Canada team, Shannon, to a mushroom farm!

I remember my first trip to a mushroom farm 6 years ago, I honestly did not know what to expect. I was, however, pleasantly surprised to see that mushrooms were grown indoors (especially since it was February!), and the cleanliness & food safety practices that were in place were astonishing. Hair nets, boots, lab-coats, and no jewelry were the strict rules.

The farm we are going to visit today is owned by Murray Good. You may remember that I featured Murray in this past summer’s Fresh From the Farmer series, where he was in the middle of constructing his new farm. Yes, Murray’s farm actually burned down 2 years ago, and he had been working hard to get it built, certified and up-&-growing again. This is great news for Shannon, because she we be seeing the newest, state-of-the-art farm in Canada.

So, I guess we will see tomorrow exactly what she thinks!

Have you ever been to a mushroom farm?

Quick Tip: Grilling Portabellas

The weather is nice, the sun is out and grilling season is in full swing! One of my favourite summer dishes is the quick & easy grilled portabella mushroom.

Here are some of my quick-tips to get perfectly grilled ports everytime.

• Remove the stem before grilling. This allows for the mushroom to lay flat on the grill.
• Brush portabellas lightly with oil. Grill on medium-high heat for 5-6 minutes on either side.
• Add an extra boost of flavour. Marinate portabellas in an oil based vinaigrette, like Italian or Sundried Tomato, before grilling.
• Enjoy as a side dish or topping on your favourite grilled meats.

Feature Friday: Mushroom Farming 101

One of the most common questions I encounter on a daily basis, besides how do you clean mushrooms, is “how do mushroom grow?”

There really is no simple way to answer this. The growing mushrooms contains a lot of steps, and a mushroom farmer must go through a very lengthy process before those white button mushroom you love and enjoy are shipped to your local market.

Let’s take a look a look at how mushrooms grow….

Contrary to popular belief mushrooms are not grown in manure. Mushrooms are in fact grown in a pasteurized substrate, which is made up of several different organic materials such as wheat, straw, hay, stable bedding, poultry litter, gypsum, corncobs, and high protein supplements such as soybean meal and feather meal. Each item does its job to create carbon & nitrogen, as well as manage the pH levels of the substrate. These items mixed together create a nutritionally balanced growth medium for mushrooms.

Pasteurization of the substrate is next. This is the most important step in making the substrate as it eliminates any pests or micro-organisms that may be in the mixture. During pasteurization the substrate reaches a temperature of 160F/71C, all bacteria is killed. The substrate is now ready for the spawn (fungal seed) to be added.

Mushrooms are “planted” using fungal mycelia instead of seeds. This “seed” or spawn is created in sterile, biosecure laboratories. Spawn making starts with a mixture of sterilized grain such as wheat, rye, or millet. Particles of mycelia are added to the sterilized grain and then incubated to promote the growth of spawn. Mushroom farmers then purchase this spawn mixture from the specialized commercial laboratories.

Mushroom spawn is then mixed thoroughly with the pasteurized substrate back at the farm. Temperature and humidity is then managed to promote the mycelial growth within the substrate. The mycelia (a mushrooms equivalent to a root) grows in all directions throughout the substrate from the spawn grain. After this spawning takes place the substrate and spawn mixture is transferred to several hundred beds or trays. A layer of casing is then spread over the mushroom bed. This casing is usually about 2 inches thick, and is made up of mostly peat moss. This casing layer acts as a water reservoir and provides a place where the mushroom mycelia form thick white rhizomorphs, which is what happens when mycelia grow together (it looks like white string). Because mushrooms need moisture, water is applied right after the casing. The beds are then watered periodically to the maximum holding capacity of the casing layer. In a few weeks the mushrooms will be ready for their first harvest.

Mushroom growers can often get more than one harvest from their single crop. Some can do two or three harvests with a 7 to 10 day break in between each harvest. The mushroom yield will decrease with each harvest of that single crop. Agaricus mushrooms are harvested for 16 to 35 days. During this harvest time bed temperatures, humidity and air ventilation are all controlled and monitored to ensure a healthy crop.

All mushrooms are hand harvested, which is very labour intensive work, believe me. After picking the mushroom from the bed the harvester then cuts off the base of the mushroom or the stump. The mushrooms are then immediately put into cold storage, this stops any mushroom deterioration or browning. This is also why you should keep your mushrooms in the fridge when you take them home. The mushrooms are then sent to packaging where they are either washed, sliced or cello wrapped in trays. Each package is weighed and then sent under a metal detector to make sure that no foreign objects were dropped into the container. They are now ready to be shipped.

The mushrooms that you see in your local grocery store were most likely picked 12-24 hours ago, so when you get them, you are getting the freshest mushrooms possible.

So there it is, the answer to every ones burning question, how mushrooms really grow. I hope this helps out all the people who have ever wondered.

Fresh From the Farmer: Murray Good of Whitecrest Mushrooms

In this new Blog Feature we will get to know the family farmers who grow your mushrooms as they tell you the story of their farms, explain the growing process, address common myths, and share their favourite mushroom recipes.

Murray Good of Whitecrest Mushrooms, Putnam, Ontario

Murray was raised on a farm in Plattsville, Ont. He worked for Alpine Plant Foods and was the main mixologist of liquid fertilizer for twenty years. Although he loved his job at Alpine, Murray knew that farming was in his blood. Seven years ago he decided to take chance and ask Hank Hermans if he could buy his Mushroom Farm. He loved the concept that Mushrooms were one of the most natural foods to grow. Murray and Chantelle have owned Whitecrest Mushroom Farm for 7 years now. They grow Crimini and Portabellas, and have started a little retail store on their farm. They have also produced their own line of mushroom products, called Good Family Foods.

1. What is your name & farm name?
Murray Good, and my farm name is Whitecrest Mushrooms.

2. Where are you located?
Putnam, Ontario. About 15 minutes outside of London.

3. Tell us about your farm.
Welcome to Whitecrest Mushrooms. We are standing in front of the new building that is being constructed. Our old building was struck by lightning last June 5th, and it was totally taken down to the ground.

We are going to be producing mushrooms again here in our new facility in the middle of August. The mushrooms that we produce are the brown agaricus, or what everybody has come to know as portabella or criminis.

We will be producing roughly around 1.5 million to 2 million pounds of mushrooms per year.

4. Tell about Food Safety.
The main focus at Whitecrest with the new production and the new plant is food safety. We adhere to SQF Certification as far as food safety, traceability, and food security.

The biggest thing we stress to our workers is that they understand the philosophy of food safety and why food safety is so important on a farm.

Food safety is the number one thing we have to be concerned about here as far as production goes.

5. Mushroom growing room.
Here we are standing in front of one of our typical mushroom growing rooms. As you can see, the aluminum bed, the aluminum walls, everything has to be clean, that’s the priority from our food safety point of view.

From these rooms we will be growing our portabella mushrooms. They are produced in these rooms 365 days a year.

6. Locally grown, and fresh year round!
With production of 365 days a year we can guarantee freshness, which in turns creates great flavour, and a great quality product that can be consumed year round.

7. Mushrooms Go PINK, what’s that about?
This year mushroom producers across Canada will be participating in a breast cancer awareness program using the PINK tills. When you see them in your local store that will be in September.
We will be raising funds for breast cancer awareness and research.

We were very proud of last year’s donation of over $60,000. This year, in 2011, we are planning to do much better than that. We hope to increase the awareness of breast cancer and research for Canadian Women.

8. Evan and Aidan, what’s your favourite way to eat mushrooms?
Aidan: My favourite way to eat mushrooms is on pizza.
Evan: My favourite way to eat mushrooms is in spaghetti.

9. What’s your favourite mushroom recipe?
Chantelle Good’s Mushroom Hot Dip
Mix onions, garlic, mushroom with a few spices, cream cheese, Monterey jack and jalapeño cheese. Heat that up for 30 minutes or so, and serve with pita chips or nice crusty bread. Yeah, it’s delicious!

You can also see Murray Good talking with Maribel Linfield of Grand River Living about mushroom growing here.

To see more “Fresh From the Farmer” Videos visit our YouTube Channel.