By Lily Bradburn
Last week I traveled to Tangled Roots in Shrewsbury for the workshop “The Secret World of Shiitake Mushrooms,” the first of RAFFL’s “Real Farms, Real Food, Real Rutland” on-farm workshops. Run by Lucas Jackson and Maeve Mangine, their workshop included both an informational session and hands-on Shiitake mushroom inoculation.
Mushrooms could be considered the last food group to get picked for mealtime kickball. As part of the kingdom that includes yeasts and mold, it often gets a bad rap as simply being an unsafe and eccentric looking thing that grows in the forest. With such a stereotype people rarely venture into the realm of tasting mushrooms. Personally, I absolutely love the taste of mushrooms and never pass up a risotto or soup with mushroom stock, but I never fancied the texture. None-the-less, I looked forward to seeing first hand how this often-mystifying food gets cultivated.
I first visited Tangled Roots in late February with the farm covered in about a foot of snow. At that point the farm was yet to even begin inoculating, the process of “planting” the mycelium that will grow into mushrooms. As Jackson explained, he and Mangine began inoculating in 2010 and harvesting mushrooms about a year later. Mangine expressed that when they began growing Shiitake mushrooms it was a “big leap of faith”. This in due part because it takes about a year after initial inoculation to harvest any of the mushrooms and see one’s yield. For Tangled Roots it paid off and now they grow over 200 logs in their laying yard, or the space designated for growing their gourmet Shiitake mushrooms.
The property belongs to Mangine’s parents, but she and Jackson primarily use it for growing mushrooms on natural logs, growing in their experimental orchards, and selling raw milk from their Alpine and Oberhasli goats. By the time the workshop came around most of the snow was gone, but that did not stop a little snow and rain from coming down during most of the workshop. While cold and wet, the workshop participants’ enthusiasm continued through our two hours there.
For the hands-on portion of the workshop, participants helped inoculate two logs. The inoculation began with finding the right logs to grown the mushrooms. Mangine and Jackson harvest hardwood sugar maple trees easily form the surrounding forest. While sugar maple logs have stronger bark to retain the moisture in the tree to help grow the mushrooms, any hardwood works.
Next Jackson drilled several holes into the log, which participants then filled with spawn (a combination of mycelium and sawdust) using an inoculation tool. Mangine then covered them in a wax to prevent any spawn from falling out once the logs were stacked. These logs will sit for about a year, at which point they will be shocked into growing mushrooms by a process of leaving them in cold water overnight. After that the logs will be stacked in a shaded area to fruit with Shiitakes.
Along with the hands-on portion, Jackson and Mangine provided a plethora of fascinating information about mushrooms. Conventional mushrooms (typically white button mushrooms) are grown in sterile environments in sawdust. This process often requires several inputs of herbicides and nutrients to help maintain the fragile balance of growing.
Log growing mimics a more natural process. The wood and mushrooms growing inside possess natural immunities. This ensures the Shiitakes resistance to other harmful organism (with the proper management) and those immunities pass on when we eat them. Along with these immunities, Shiitakes contain high levels of protein, B vitamins, and if you lay them out to dry gills up (the underside of the mushroom cap) they absorb large amounts of vitamin D.
On top of all these attributes, Mangine and Jackson explained that with so many “different forces counter balancing each other” that there is no need to “apply any chemicals or pesticides to logs outdoors”. Given the significant benefits coming from natural log Shiitake mushrooms, clearly supporting local growers as opposed to purchasing conventional mushrooms will introduce important nutrients to any meal. To get a taste of this unique and beneficial mushroom from Tangled Roots for the coming season stop buy the Rutland Co-op, Shrewsbury co-op, and/or restaurants like Roots and Three Tomatoes.
Lily Bradburn is a graduating senior in Green Mountain College’s Progressive Program and has spent the semester interning with RAFFL. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published in the Rutland Herald.