Sunday, October 17, 2010

Far West Fungi Mushroom Farm Field Trip

The yellow tapes are there to reduce mushroom flies
We gathered at Rockridge BART station this morning for carpooling. Master Ken was glad to see me with my car since they were short on cars. I picked up Christina and Silent Joe then headed toward Far West Fungi Farm in Moss Landing. The weather forecast said that there would be a shower in the afternoon; however, the rain started shortly after we got on the freeway. By the time I got to Highway 17, the rain was pouring down so hard as if someone was hosing down the car with full blast of water. I glanced back occasionally at Silent Joe who sat in the back. I hoped they weren't too worried. After all, I have driven Highway 17 countless times. We arrived at the Farm just minutes past noon, and we were the first group from Rockridge BART to arrive. We joined the first tour led John and Toby Garrone's (owners) younger son, Kyle.

Golden Oyster
Unlike a regular vegetable farm, the mushrooms are grown inside of dark and humid warehouses on blocks inside of special plastic bags. These plastic bags cost 20 cents each, which allow oxygen to enter but not bacteria. Kyle Garrone explained to us how the sawdust is mixed, sterilized, and compressed. They are inoculated with mushroom spawns in "clean room", which the employees have to take a shower before entering and stay inside all day during the process in order to eliminate contamination. The clean room is the only facility that's not open for tour.

The bagged blocks are then stored in the dark windowless warehouses. We got to walk through the warehouses of various mushrooms in various stages. Far West currently grow 9 kinds mushrooms - white, blue, brown, pink, gold, and trumpet oysters, shiitake, lion’s mane, maitake, and reishi along with acreage of traditional crop plants that their employees grow for their own use. They grow everything certified organic on recycled materials.

Lion's Mane
At the end of the tour, we had our usual potluck BBQ. Now, you might wonder, how could we have a BBQ in this bad weather? First, a raining day is a great day for mushroom people. Mushroom people never cancel an event due to the rain. When it rains, we cheer in excitement. This was the second time I encountered wet weather on a Far West Fungi field trip during the last 5 years as a MSSF member. I always have rain gear in my car - two umbrellas and a rain poncho. During mushroom season, the rain boots stay in the car, too.

Shiitake mushrooms waiting to be sorted in the walk in refrigerator
Mushroom people and urban farmers are extremely versatile and creative. The Garrone brothers had setup the big grill on wheels at the entrance of a farm shed. If the rain got too hard, we would pull the grill inside a bit. We didn't have enough disposable plates and utensils this year, but that was no big deal. Many people did bring their own bowls as we always encourage people to reduce waste by not using disposable products. People used the lids of tupperwares, flatten cardboard boxes, plastic inserts of crackers, cups, etc. as their plates/bowls. It was interesting to see what people were using to carry their food. I always bring my own food tray and utensils in the car. Everybody enjoyed the feast and social gathering.

Christina working the grill - chicken satay, marinated shiitake, zucchini, and sausage
In addition to the BBQ, we also raided the recycle pile of used mushroom blocks. The blocks are still full of mycilia and can be fruited again although it is not cost effective for the farm to reuse them. We took as many of the used blocks home as our cars could fit to grow mushrooms in our garages, closets, or under the trees.

We raided the pile of used mushroom blocks before heading over to the BBQ

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