There are more than 10,000 known types of mushrooms, and mycologists suspect there are more to be discovered. While not all grow in Wisconsin, the state’s optimal soil conditions and wood types make it ideal for amateur foragers and large-scale producers alike.
Forage to Fork
Born to early members of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Mycological Society, Mike Jozwik of Mushroom Mike LLC cut his teeth with a combination of academic study and early exposure to some of the best and brightest minds in the field.
“We started out primarily selling foraged morel mushrooms,” he explains. “But we grew in such popularity in the Madison restaurant scene that our customers began asking us to provide cultivated mushrooms as well.”
Wisconsin is home to about 300 edible mushroom species, but the morel is one of the most popular, and arguably the easiest type to spot in the wild.
While Jozwik no longer relies exclusively on foraged mushrooms, he works with a network of national pickers who procure hundreds of pounds of foraged mushrooms per week. Between managing the foraged varieties and growing hundreds of pounds of cultivated mushrooms, Jozwik doesn’t have much time to spare – but he loves what he does.
“If you thrive off problem solving like I do, it’s a great industry to be in,” Jozwik says.
For Eric Rose of River Valley Ranch, the inception of his family’s mushroom operation was a matter of supply and demand.
“There was a farm near the restaurant my parents owned that had mushrooms some days and not others,” Rose says. “It drove my dad crazy that they didn’t seem to care when they had them.”
Recognizing the market was poorly supplied, Rose’s father launched River Valley Ranch in 1976. In its early days, the business operated out of a converted horse barn. Today it has developed into a much larger operation.
Also see: What’s in Season: Mushrooms
“We produce or grow about 15,000 pounds per week of organic cremini, portabella and white buttons, and about 500 pounds per week of oyster and shiitake,” Rose says. They occasionally grow and offer the less common, but equally tasty, varieties like lion’s mane, trumpets and hen of the woods.
While some varieties of wild mushrooms grow on living or decaying trees, River Valley Ranch mushrooms grow on farm-produced compost.
“We start with 200 cubic yards of stable bedding, add 3,000 pounds of protein supplement and gypsum, and 6,000 gallons of water,” Rose explains. When the compost is ready to go, they inoculate it with mushroom spawn, cover it with peat moss and limestone, and let nature take its course.
When the crop is ready, the team harvests the mushrooms by hand before starting the process over again.
Get the recipe: Find a recipe for Portabella Parmesan from River Valley Ranch here.
Supplying Mushroom Spawn
In the 35 years Joe Krawczyk and Mary Ellen Kozak have owned Field & Forest Products, they’ve grown their selection of mushroom spawn from 1 species of shiitake to 14 strains of shiitake, 8 species of oyster mushrooms and 12 other edible and medicinal fungi.
Much like seeds are to a gardener, mushroom spawn is genetically complete mushroom mycelia, the thread-like structures that mushrooms use to reproduce. Mycelia are grown on a substrate, such as sawdust or compost, that is capable of producing a mushroom crop under the right conditions.
“We supply everyone from hobbyists to full-time, large-scale growers,” Krawczyk says. “The hobby market has been steadily increasing, as has the seasonal market grower servicing CSAs and local farm markets.”
In addition to supplying the market with mushroom spawn, F&FP produces mushrooms year round on supplemented sawdust, and seasonally on natural logs to test and develop new varieties and growing techniques.
For those interested in growing mushrooms but don’t know where to start, Krawczyk’s company offers workshops and a variety of ready-to-fruit “TableTop Farms” suitable for homeowners who lack the resources to grow mushrooms from scratch.