LOS ANGELES, July 4, 2014- The mushroom lives a secret life and until May 19, 2010, I was unaware of exactly how secret it was. It took me a long time to find a farm that would allow me to visit and see the growing process of a mushroom. I’ve always been fascinated with them and especially the unique varietals that are hard to find.
“Farms keep their rooms sterile and very clean. People going in and out bring contaminants with them, which can cause major problems for growers so that’s the main reason mushrooms farms are kept private,” Steve the mushroom man said. “Our system in its current state is not a sterile environment; our sterile environment is encased in the bags.”
In the middle of nowhere Oklahoma in the most unsuspecting place I found exotic mushroom farm. The mushroom farm had managed to survive the terrible weather and were in a direct path of an f1 tornado a week prior. Thankfully the tornado had left the building in tact and had it been a slightly more powerful tornado, this farmer would have lost his crops, his building and his livelihood.
Aaron, a smiling, young and enthusiastic college student, was my guide. As I walked up to the doors I noticed a huge pile of what looked like cocaine or heroin blocks but they were not drugs. They were the discarded mushroom logs. I had always perceived a mushroom log to be a cut piece of an actual tree.
I walked down into a basement-like structure where the temperature jumped and the humidity was high. At this point, there was nothing keeping me from the mushrooms except flimsy plastic doors zipped shut. My anticipation grew.
As I walked through the doors I was initially taken by surprise by the beauty of the mushrooms and then hit by the overpowering smell. It looked like you stepped into a scene from Avatar or were sitting with the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland. In a way, the room was magical and it felt as though you had walked into a storybook.
As I took the grand tour, I was led into three different rooms. First, a dark room kept completely black for initial growth, a second room for the newly sprouted mushrooms and a third a room that contained the mushrooms that were almost ready to be picked and harvested.
The mushrooms grew out of the large drug looking blocks and were fed sawdust to thrive. They were kept in a temperate climate that was slightly warm and very moist feeling. Mushrooms are extremely delicate and with a slight change in temperature or humidity they can take on a new shade of color. For instance, a few days after the tornado they lost power they were relying on generators. A mushroom that was supposed to be white took on a red twinge.
The rooms were foggy from all the spores flying around the room and for this reason, Steve wears a respirator while he’s working. For a brief moment it was okay to be down there but much longer and I would have wanted some protective gear. It felt as though I was going to sprout mushrooms at any second.
After a few minutes I excused myself from the enchanted looking garden and went back outside to breathe normal air. As I came out of the building I looked at the logs with a new appreciation and understanding.
Connecting with food is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It gives you a new sense for what you’re eating. I’ll never look at a mushroom the same way and I’ll always give thanks for those who dedicate themselves to the art of growing mushrooms. It was an experience of a lifetime and, for my next big adventure, I think I’ll hunt them instead of seeing them massed produced. Who would have thought that Oklahoma would have been the answer to my mushroom crisis?
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