Sustainable Shiitake – or a Scandal?

Fresh Shiitake ready to be delivered to market

There is an ever increasing demand for gourmet mushrooms in today’s world of rapidly available commerce. This is in part due to the growing popularity of fungi food that contains vast numbers of healthy nutrients in a nutrient deprived society.  Largely it is great to see Modern Mycophiles sprouting up everywhere like Amanitaafter a heavy rain!  However, there is a new and deceiving niche that is praying upon the uninformed and cashing in big time on this burst of growth.  This newly growing niche market is Chinese Shiitake importers that pass off as local farms and are taking foothold in small towns and cities across the Great United States of America.

Approximately 80% of domestic mushrooms are currently produced in Pennsylvania.  Because of its rich heritage in mushroom farming and ideal climate for commercial production, Pennsylvania has been held high as the mushroom capital in the US. (Coloradans, Portlandians and other North-westerners may disagree); however, in recent years there has been a huge player who has entered the domestic growing world of mushrooms and they reside half way across the globe in China. China has been the masters of mushroom cultivation for centuries and have perfected very high-tech operations that can mass produce various arrays of mushrooms.  They have numerous soda-factory-esque mushroom facilities that have created a huge infrastructure for their country and these efficiencies are overall a great thing.  None-the-less, with this giant increase in efficiency there is also a degradation in quality and less regulations in China allow for less than superior ingredients to be used as substrates that mushrooms grow on.  Furthermore, China’s low labor costs have gouged the American worker and this has led to massive importation of Chinese ready-to-fruit logs at pennies on the dollar.  In fact, one of the largest farms in the country has just filed for bankruptcy in February because of this massive influx in Chinese imported blocks.  To the consumer, this may seem like a huge plus and a win for Globalism; however, a lot of these blocks contain fillers and mushrooms that are grown on these imported logs are passing as “locally grown” mushrooms.  Since Shiitakes have a longer incubation period, they can be inoculated in China, shipped overseas and then bought in bulk for cents on the dollar.  They then get passed off as “gourmet locally grown” mushrooms because they were “fruited” in chambers designed to churn out pounds and pounds of these imported blocks.  The blocks are then discarded and the process continues until prices drop beyond profitability for local farmers.  I believe this process is very misleading and should be identified and exposed to the consumer.  Lower Prices are great, but should also come with the knowledge that they were imported from overseas and not sustainable for local commerce.

Some of our own Shiitake Blocks Fruiting – Made from locally sourced all-natural hardwood sawdust.

One way that consumers can take action is to pay closer attention to where your mushrooms are coming from and what substrates are used to produce them.  There are a lot of good growers out there who take pride in their substrates and their own blends.  At Fresh from the Farm Fungi we take it a step beyond that and use Locally Sourced, and All Natural Substrates to feed our fungi in order to deliver the healthiest and most-sustainable mushrooms the Colorado market has to offer.  Please be aware of where your mushrooms are coming from! A good way to tell if your shiitakes are fresh and local is the amount of fuzz on the caps!  A fresh shiitake typically has some fuzz left and the longer it is packaged and the farther it travels, the more the cap begins to lose its coat and it quickly toughens up.  

Fresh Shiitake ready to be harvested! – Note the fuzz still present on the caps : )

Thanks for reading up on the Shiitake scandal going on across America and thank you for learning about the wonderful world of fungi!

Sincerely and Mushlove,

Gary Heferle, Owner

Fresh from the Farm Fungi

Littleton, CO

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