By Liz Verley, Staff Writer
Mushrooms come in various shapes and sizes. From the small button mushroom to the lofty puffball mushrooms, the fungi are enjoyed by connoisseurs of every type of dish from pizzas to desserts.
They are low in calories, have no cholesterol and are very low in fat and sodium. Wild mushrooms can range in price for reasons such as taste, historical significance and availability. European truffles can sell for over $1,600 a pound.
Forest Mushrooms Inc., located near St. Joseph, is owned and operated by Kevin Doyle. The business has grown and distributed specialty mushrooms since 1985.
Having attended school at St. John’s and the University of Minnesota, Doyle was working on willow research when he sent away for literature on raising mushrooms. Discovering that it could become a viable business he developed his market plan and the rest is history. Doyle said, “The business has grown ever since it began.”
“In the beginning, growing and selling mushrooms was like a big rock rolling uphill. After three years, I was running like crazy before the rock,” Doyle said.
Forest Mushrooms raises two types of mushrooms on site, the shiitake and the oyster. The mushrooms are harvested daily. Doyle said, “We harvest mushrooms year-around, including holidays.”
The shiitake mushrooms are brown, range from 2 to 4 inches in diameter and are grown from special sawdust bricks.
Doyle said, “The shiitake are one of the most flavorful of all specialty mushrooms. They are also believed to have numerous health benefits, including the ability to reduce blood cholesterol levels, help prevent high blood pressure and stimulate the immune system, which is helpful in fighting cancer.”
Although all edible mushrooms can be eaten raw, shiitake mushrooms are usually cooked.
The oyster mushrooms grown at Forest Mushrooms sprout from a special wheat straw formula compacted in a black plastic. They are harvested in fan shaped clusters, blue-grey in color and have a fresh aroma.
Oyster mushrooms can be eaten raw or cooked.
Like any farming, the mushroom crop takes time and care.
Doyle said, ‘Mushrooms are on the opposite side of the carbon cycle from green plants. They need low levels to grow. They must be watched carefully. The air in the growing rooms must be displaced 10 – 12 times an hour. If our fans go down, we have an emerging crisis. The air velocity, circulation, humidity, temperature and CO2 level need to be followed closely. Good quality air is as important to mushrooms as good soil is to crops.”
Forest Mushrooms produces approximately 20 percent of the mushrooms it distributes.
In a week there are approximately 2,500 pounds of oyster and 500 pounds of shiitake mushrooms produced on site. In all, 20,000 pounds of various mushrooms are sold through the business a week.
Doyle said, “While we started with just the two varieties, people wanted more. We now distribute a large variety of other fresh and dried mushrooms. Mushrooms are a highly valued product. We have shipped mushrooms to different countries as well as to our wholesalers.”
He cautioned, “One thing people must remember when storing fresh mushrooms is they have a shelf life of approximately two weeks, and they must be stored in a container that will allow air to circulate.”
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture says wild mushrooms cannot be sold or served through a retail establishment unless they have been individually inspected and determined to be safe by a certified licensed mushroom specialist. Doyle has held that license since 1992.
Forest Mushroom has 10 employees. He said, “One thing I have discovered is that I cannot employ people that smoke. After a short time, they have an allergic response to the air.”
Doyle will sell to the general public by appointment only. The business does not sell to drop-ins. He said, “We do not have the time to help those that drop in, but if people call ahead to see what we have in stock, we can have it ready for them when they arrive. We can also package and ship gift baskets.”
For more information on Forest Mushrooms Inc., one may visit its Web site at www.forestmushroom.com or call (888) 363-7957.