Some people might be scared to eat exotic mushrooms, but one family farm is hoping to change your mind. Meet the Stewart family of Haw River Mushrooms, and see how their unique farming and array of mushrooms are creating something of a mushroom revolution.
Laura Stewart, Haw River Mushrooms co-owner and certified mushroom forager
A lot of people, particularly in the United States, didn’t grow up foraging mushrooms and they think of them as ‘toadstools’. . . We’re kind of a mycophobic culture that we’ve been raised to almost be afraid of mushrooms.
Not your average fungi
When a dish calls for mushrooms, portobello and crimini are probably among the first varieties to come to mind. The Stewart family, however, is in the business of growing some less familiar fungi.
At Haw River Mushrooms in Saxapahaw, owners Laura and Ches Stewart grow 10-12 varieties of hardwood mushrooms a year. Different from soil-grown types, these include lions mane, reishi and more. And the Stewarts have noticed North Carolina has a growing appetite for these mushrooms.
“We just got unbelievably lucky that we ended up in the piedmont, and central North Carolina has been such a good fit for us,” Laura said. “It’s such a strong, small farming community; such an amazing culinary scene.”
Going against mycophobic culture
The Stewarts are running their business while raising their three-year-old twin girls, who say they’re mushroom farmers too.
While their family and community enjoy exotic mushrooms, the Stewarts say that not everyone is as open to the idea.
“A lot of people, particularly in the United States, didn’t grow up foraging mushrooms and they think of them as ‘toadstools’. . . We’re kind of a mycophobic culture that we’ve been raised to almost be afraid of mushrooms,” Laura said.
The Stewarts are working to shift this perspective on mushrooms with classes and events held at Haw River. They share what makes the hardwood mushroom-growing process unique.
How hardwood mushrooms are made
“What we do is we mix a substrate, so we mix all the materials that go in each bag, seal it and then sterilize it. And then inoculate it with the culture,” said Ches.
After they’re inoculated and colonized, the mushrooms move to the “grow room” where they will fruit. Ultimately, the Stewarts sell the fresh mushrooms to customers and local restaurants. They’ve recently added prepared foods to the menu at Haw River, including oyster mushroom jerky and lions mane crab cakes.
As their business grows, it’s more than unique mushrooms that keeps them going. Laura finds inspiration in family.
“A lot of it I think that motivates us is building a business that is making a better world for our girls and for their generation.”
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