TRAVERSE CITY — Mushrooms for years have gotten a bad rap. They’re treated as pests when they pop up in the garden or yard, despite their delicious reputation in the kitchen.
They’re probably the most overlooked produce by gardeners and one of the most expensive in the grocery stores. A pound of organic shiitakes costs more than $20.
That is why some dedicated fungi lovers began proliferating the practice of growing mushrooms at home during the past few years.
“It’s another form of gardening,” said Bernie Ware, who owns and operates Ware Farm in Bear Lake with his wife Sandee. “It’s like any form of garden, there’s a learning curve there.”
Ware has grown shiitake mushrooms for the past 12 years, providing locally-grown fungus to restaurants and a handful of markets. He has watched while interest in both using and growing mushrooms has grown. His shiitake garden has expanded to about 1,200 logs inoculated with mushroom spores that fruit each year.
“I’ve ramped up the scale that we’re producing for the past seven years,” he said. “Right now there’s a lot of interest in mushrooms, and I don’t think it’s a fad. Used well, cooked properly, they can really enhance dishes.”
This year Ware begins experimenting with other types of mushrooms to broaden his business. Ware also helped nurture a healthy population of people who’ve begun propogating mushrooms at home. Another 10 mushroom gardeners will inoculate about 100 logs with spores at an upcoming workshop at the Ware Farm, sponsored by the Institute for Sustainable Living, Art and Natural Design (ISLAND).
Ware spends the day of the class intertwining mycological facts and lessons between work making the mushroom logs.
Students at the fourth annual rendition of the workshop will drill holes in fresh oak logs, pound spore plugs into the holes and cover the openings with wax. It’s the same process Ware uses to create the logs which produce thousands of mushrooms on his farm each year.