| 2014 Q2 | story by SALLY ZOGRY | photos by STEVEN HERTZOG |
Most people would be hard-pressed to conjure up a mental image of a shitake mushroom farm, but according to Alan Terry, a peaceful patch of woods, and lots and lots of logs is about all there is to it.
Alan Terry has been cultivating shitakes on his 40-acre Oak Ridge Farm in Baldwin City for more than 25 years using a traditional Japanese method that his late wife first read about in a magazine.
“She saw an ad in a magazine about growing shitakes in oak logs,” says Alan. “I had never heard of shitake mushrooms. I don’t think a lot of people had back in the 80’s, but we had just finished building a house and had lot of oak log around the property.”
The process of cultivating shitakes in oak logs starts with drilling one-inch holes into logs, and then plugging the holes with a shitake mycelium. The “inoculation sites” are then sealed with wax, and the logs are stacked in a shady spot – in Alan’s case, it’s a grove of cedars on his farm. About year and a half later, the mushrooms push aside the wax and emerge from the holes. Alan says the log method of cultivation is the hard way to grow shitakes, and that most commercial shitake farmers grow them on a synthetic substrate.
“People ask what I do, and sometimes I joke that I’m a log wrestler,” says Alan. “But I enjoy it, it gets me out in the woods. I like to get out there in the morning when it’s quiet the birds are singing. It’s very meditative.”
Alan, who also works in property management, has 3000-4000 logs on his farm that produce 1000-1500 pounds of shitakes a year. He sells the mushrooms to a number of local restaurants and occasionally sells at the Lawrence Farmer’s Market when he has a surplus. He says he finds the social aspect of the business satisfying.
“You get to know the restaurants and the chefs,” says Alan. “It’s always nice when you deliver the first box of the season and the mushrooms look beautiful and everyone is happy to see you. Of course, it’s really the mushroom they’re happy to see, but you get a little of the rubbed-off glory.”
It is possible to speed up the cultivation time of the shitakes by soaking the logs in water overnight and covering them with a light plastic. This process will yield mushrooms in just a few weeks. For people who want to try their hand at growing shitakes using this method, Alan sells inoculated logs at The Holiday Farmer’s Market and at The Merc Co-op.
It’s fun for people to buy the log, watch the mushrooms grow and then eat them,” says Alan. “They make good gifts – I put a bow on them and sell quite a few at the holiday market.”