Aldona Bird, Contributors, Latest News

Mon Valley Mushrooms brings fresh fungi to the table

After eating a particularly pungent shiitake mushroom a couple years ago, my daughter decided then and there that she didn’t like any mushrooms.

Recently, she begged for seconds — of mushrooms very different from the original offending shiitake. These were lion’s mane mushrooms.

I bought the lion’s mane from Mon Valley Mushrooms, at the winter Morgantown Farmers Market.

This is Mon Valley Mushrooms’ first year at the winter market. So far, they’ve sold out of fresh mushrooms — usually within the first half hour.

Behind these popular mushrooms are Jamie Brown and Lucas Sieber. “Our demand is outgrowing our capacity,” Lucas said. “We see our limitations, but we also have hope and see the possibilities.”

They started growing mushrooms in Lucas’ garage about a year and a half ago. Last week I visited this retrofitted garage.

Growing as much as they can and continually improving their workspace, this team seems to be constantly thinking ahead to bigger goals.

They began our conversation describing their future plans. Only at the end of my visit did we talk about how they got started. One of the very first things we discussed was their intention to create a hyper local, eco-friendly system for their farm.

“Keeping it totally closed loop, in house, is the goal,” Jamie said. Lucas and Jamie explained that this would involve having their own mycelium bank (mycelium is comparable to seeds for fungus).

Lucas said that they are working on sourcing locally produced substrate in the form of hardwood wood chips or soy hulls — both byproducts of the agricultural industry.

In addition to fresh mushrooms and kits, they also sell shelf-stable products like dried mushrooms, a meat rub, seasoning, tea and salt — all Jamie’s own recipes.

While they gave me a tour of their facility, they explained ways they could improve it — ways that will increase their efficiency, but which also cost money. They noted that they are just one power outage away from losing all their mushrooms — upgrading to solar is on their list of goals. Once, when the water was out, they lugged in buckets of water from neighbors.

Luckily, they saved their fungus, because not only market shoppers rely on their production. They’ve sold to 17 local restaurants. Six of those place weekly orders.

As they repacked grow bags, which had already fruited once, to try to get a second flush, we circled back and talked about their early days.

They said they spent their first six months of this project experimenting to find types of mushrooms to grow, and methods to employ.

Jamie and Lucas settled on 13 varieties (some seasonal), with a few more varieties in the works, and on a process that starts with inoculating grain with mycelium, moving the grain into bags of a growing substrate, then the bags into humid tents to let them fruit before harvesting.

Although I’m summarizing the process in one sentence, it is anything but simple. The grain and substrate must be sterilized, supplies need to be measured and mixed, and even with precision in every step, things sometimes go wrong.

“The mushrooms are in charge, we are just the facilitators,” Lucas joked.

Jamie and Lucas attribute their success so far to many friends who have pitched in and helped. They asked to put in a special shout out to Mary and Chico of Mountain Harvest Farm. “Every way you can support someone, they’ve supported us,” Jamie said.

“Anything feels possible because of the support we’ve received,” Lucas said. “This is just the beginning, even though we’ve been at this for 18-19 months.”

ALDONA BIRD is a journalist using experience gained working on organic farms in Europe to help her explore possibilities of local productivity and sustainable living in Preston County. Email