Fungus Among Us? Wisconsin Farm Grows Mushrooms

Pennsylvania may claim the title of top mushroom producing state, but Wisconsin can claim a few mushroom growers as well. Jennifer Brown is the General Manager at River Valley Ranch, a mushroom farm in Slade’s Corners, near the stateline that has been in business since 1976. The farm grows mushrooms in the agaricus family which includes the standard white, portobello and crimini varieties of mushrooms. The farm also grows some specialty varieties such as lion’s mane, oyster and shiitake, although those are produced on a smaller scale. 

With a crop as unique to Wisconsin as mushrooms are, the market for the farm’s products had to be developed. River Valley Ranch took that challenge on and has used many different channels to move their products. They have an on-farm store that is open year round, sell to grocery stores and attend several farmer’s markets. Although they recently closed a restaurant and retail store in Chicago, they’ve continued a home delivery service for customers there. 

The farm itself produces about 15,000 pounds of mushrooms each week. The farm has about 32,000sq.ft of growing space between the six houses and separate shiitake growing area. The farm also creates all of their own growing medium. Using horse manure from local farms to create compost that is closely monitored to reach a high enough temperature to kill off any bacteria or biological contaminants. That compost then goes on to be pasteurized before being put to use to grow the mushrooms. The farm is organic certified so has some additional standards to follow to stay compliant.  

Mushrooms grow from spores, and the process to start the mushrooms growing in the compost is unique. The farm has to order their spores from Pennsylvania, where a few select companies sell seeds that have been inoculated with the mushroom spores. The packages are vacuum packed and shipped here and then the spore laced seeds are planted in the multilevel mushroom beds. 

Jennifer says that as people are interested in trying new foods and different ingredients in their recipes, many are seeking out the more exotic types of mushrooms. She is also seeing more vendors at farmer’s markets selling those exotic mushrooms that were likely grown at home. River Valley Ranch has capitalized on that trend as well, they sell mushroom growing kits on their website.