Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Commercial Mushroom Grower in Colorado

Hazel Dell Organic Mushroom Farm ~ Fort Collins, Colorado

Owner Jim Hammond started growing mushrooms in Santa Cruz, California in 1980, and also grew mushrooms commercially near Watsonville, California at Moss Landing. But since 1991, he and his wife have run Hazel Dell Mushrooms near Fort Collins, Colorado, providing the region's Farmers Markets, Whole Foods stores, and Boulder's eat-local restaurants with six main varieties of organic mushrooms.

Hammond started out learning to grow mushrooms out of a garage before advancing to commercial growing.

To grow the mushrooms at Hazel Dell, mycelium are grown in petri dishes and innoculated into jars, and then into bags filled with sterilized hardwood sawdust mixed with water, wheat bran, rice bran, gypsum, and limestone. This process takes 4-13 weeks at 70 degrees, and binds the sawdust together.
"All of our mushroom culture lab work is performed in a super HEPA filtered clean room to also minimize contamination after we sterilize our sawdust bags. Our employees even shower and change into sterile lab clothing before the innoculation process. We keep our harvest rooms clean and our crop cycles short to avoid pest problems which means that we do not need to use any pesticides."

Next, the blocks are removed from the bags and allowed to "fruit", or grow the mushrooms in a humid 60 degree harvest room, taking another 1-2 weeks.

Hazel Dell grows Shiitake, Oyster, King Oyster or Royal Trumpet, Lion's Mane, Portabella, Button, Cinamon Cap, and Maitake mushrooms.

This operation has fourteen employees and grows 3,000 pounds of mushrooms per week, which Hammond says "is not very much" compared to larger commercial growers. Wholesale mushroom prices range from $6-$10 per pound. What doesn't sell fresh gets dried and sold. They also sell a mushroom rub for meat.

Their sawdust source is local, as they utilize Alder sawdust from nearby cabinet makers and door manufacturers. Previously, this sawdust went to the dump instead.

After the mushrooms are harvested, the sawdust mixture is composted. After three years it is either sold as compost or used for growing Portabellas.

This mushroom "farm" operates year-round, using evaporative cooling in the summer and natural gas heat boilers in the winter to maintain optimal mushroom growing temperatures of 60-70 degrees. Humidifiers, air exchange systems, HEPA filters, and sterilizing systems are all used in the growing process.

To contact Hazel Dell, visit their website.