September 23, 2013

In Northeast, as demand grows, so do shiitakes

The Associated Press

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Maeve Mangine show off a log full of shiitake mushrooms in Shrewsbury, Vt.

The Associated Press

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A water tank is used in the cultivation of shiitake mushrooms in Shrewsbury, Vt.

The Associated Press

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The number of commercial shiitake growers who have at least 200 logs in production or a commercial indoor growing area has grown from 142 producing 7.7 million pounds from 2003 to 2004 to 179 producing 8.6 million pounds from 2012 to 2013, according to the USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service.

Julie Rockcastle and her husband, Steve, owners of Green Heron Growers in Sherman, N.Y., served as advisers to the UVM-Cornell project. They got into shiitake growing in 2007 at the urging of their son, a Cornell University student who was friends with the president of the mushroom club there.

"They showed us an area in our hemlock woods that would be perfect for shiitake production, and they helped get us started," said Julie Rockcastle.

Like Tangled Roots Farm, which also sells raw goats' milk and chicken, Green Heron Growers doesn't just focus on mushrooms. It's just one of their farm ventures, along with organic vegetables, chickens, eggs and grass-fed beef, but it's one of their most popular.

"There's pretty high demand," she said. "We go to the farmers market in Buffalo and never have enough."

The study found anecdotedly that demand for these forest-grown shiitakes far outstrips supply, said Ben Waterman, who serves as outreach coordinator for the project.

"We could see eight times the current production and still maintain pricing at $16 a pound retail. So there's a lot of room for new growers to get into this," he said.

Encouraged by their success, the Rockcastles enlist volunteers each spring to prepare the logs in an effort to increase production to meet demand. Like Tangled Roots, they're also trying other mushroom varieties, including lion's mane and maitake.

"It's a wonderful product for a farm that has other things going on," Rockcastle said.

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In this Sept. 13, 2013, photo, shiitake mushrooms grow in logs in Shrewsbury, Vt. With a few logs from their forests and little work farmers are turning to a new crop: shiitake mushrooms that can bring in tens of thousands of dollars. A grant from the USDA has helped to teach farmers from Maine to Virginia how to raise shiitakes mushrooms. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)


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