US: Idaho - Family Farm Serves Mushrooms To Treasure Valley
July 29, 2019
PARMA — Tia Groves described her husband, Mason Groves, as an “entrepreneurial person with passion oozing out of his pores.” Last fall, that passion took the form of a hand-built, family-run mushroom farm in Parma.
On Wednesday morning, Tia Groves walked in and out of the three shipping containers-turned-mushroom farms with baby Abel on her hip. Groves Country Mushroom Farm had its first full month of operation in November and plans to continue growing mushrooms year-round to keep up with the demand.
Mason and Tia Groves built the entire farm from three shipping containers and now have their mushrooms shipped to five restaurants in the Treasure Valley, to Cliff’s Country Market in Caldwell and to the Nampa Farmers Market. They are also in a number of community supported agriculture bundles, a service in which people can get local produce delivered to them on a regular basis.
Tia Groves said she believes there are at least two other mushroom farmers in the Treasure Valley. She said that the competition among the three is minimal since they see a demand for mushrooms in the valley.
The couple met at Vallivue High School in 2009. The couple spent a few years apart when Mason Groves spent time on a fishing boat in Alaska and Tia Groves went to school and worked in Chicago. They rekindled their relationship in 2014 back in the Treasure Valley.
After having their first child, Jett, the two realized they couldn’t raise a family on an Alaskan fishing boat and decided to move back to the valley.
When searching for a way to make a living in the valley, Mason Groves, who said he has always been fascinated by agriculture, came up with the idea of growing mushrooms after talking with his grandfather, a longtime crop farmer in Parma.
“After that I dove right in,” he said.
Mason Groves said he started reading books on how to grow mushrooms and starting small growing facilities to work it out in trial and error.
Still, to make a living, Mason Groves continues to work on a fishing boat in Alaska, away from his family. He said growing mushrooms started as a way to make money while also being with his family. He is trying to get out of the commercial fishing business.
While Mason Groves is away fishing, Tia Groves and Justis Kelly, the farm’s only other employee, work on harvesting and moving the mushrooms between shipping containers.
Kelly is living near the farm for the summer and helps harvest the mushrooms twice a day.
One of the greatest challenges, Mason Groves said, was the consistency involved in growing a product.
“This is a weekly crop — you are on a schedule, doing the same thing every week, and any hiccup that shows up impacts the clients that are expecting mushrooms every week,” he said.
Mushrooms, Tia Groves explained, typically thrive in the Pacific Northwest, where it is cold and moist nearly year-round.
“In order to grow them in a climate like this, we try to mimic the way they would grow there,” she said.
Groves Country Mushrooms are grown indoors, in three shipping containers, so the farmers can regulate the temperatures of the containers to keep them cool and moist despite the weather outdoors.
Currently, the farm is growing three different colors of oyster mushrooms, chestnut mushrooms and lion’s mane. Tia Groves said in the fall the farm can grow as many as 11 different types.
The first shipping container on the farm has a refrigerator where the harvested mushrooms are preserved and where they await being shipped to consumers.
The second shipping container contains bags of wood chips and the mushroom spawn, what the mushroom grows from. This shipping container acts as the incubation chamber for the bags of wood chips and spawn to form mycelium, the vegetative part of a fungus or fungus-like bacterial colony.
After the bags fill with mycelium, they go into the last shipping container, or the fruiting chamber, where the mushrooms eventually sprout. The fruiting chamber is the foggiest and most humid of the containers. Once in the fruiting chamber, a slit is made in the bags of mycelium, allowing oxygen and light in so the mushrooms can grow.
The mushrooms start sprouting as pin sets, miniature mushrooms, and then grow into full clusters.
Once the mushrooms are in full clusters, they are harvested and put in the refrigerator in the first shipping container.
The excess wood chips and used mycelium from the plastic bags gets composted onto a pile on the farm. The compost is used on other parts of the Groveses’ property, like vegetable and flower beds. Mason Groves said they would eventually like to use the compost to grow other vegetables.
Water is used throughout the shipping containers to clean the space and regulate the environments inside. Once the water is used, it drains into a settling tank and is used on the compost pile.
Mason Groves said what little water is used in the process doesn’t go to waste.
Tia Groves said the family hopes to introduce new types of mushrooms to their farm in the fall and spring. She said the small farm is still in a trial-and-error period.
According to a ResearchAndMarkets.com report, the global mushroom market accounted for $38 billion in 2017. In the United States, the value of mushroom production was $1.22 billion in 2017, an 8 percent increase in value since 2007, according to a report commissioned by the American Mushroom Institute. The total crop in the United States was 929 million pounds of mushrooms.
Groves Country Mushrooms is expecting to triple in size by the first of the year after they move into a new building and keep the three shipping containers.
Mason Groves said the Treasure Valley community has been helpful and nice as the couple’s mushroom operation has gone through some ups and downs. He said their customers are countable on one hand, and he has personal relationships with all of them.
Rachel Spacek is the Latino Affairs reporter for the Idaho Press. You can reach her at email@example.com. Follow her on twitter @RachelSpacek.