Lori Moshman, White Oak Pastures’ entomologist and mushroom manager, began cultivating mushrooms on the farm in the fall of 2013. White Oak Pastures currently grows shiitake and oyster mushrooms on hardwood logs, but the farm is also in the process of building a pasteurization tank that will allow Moshman to grow mushrooms on a much bigger selection of materials, such as wheat straw, cotton gin trash and peanut hulls.
“Mushrooms seemed like a great way to add to a farm that was already producing virtually every other food group possible,” says Moshman of her foray into fungi. “Plus, growing mushrooms gives us the opportunity to educate our consumers about the nutritional benefits of cooking with fungi.”
Moshman studied plant science and entomology at Cornell University but also took an interest in mycology (the study of fungi) while there.
“One of my favorite classes at Cornell was called Mushrooms of Field and Forest. It consisted of foraging in the woods for a few hours every week, identifying whatever mushrooms we could and eating the nontoxic ones,” Moshman recalls. "I also served as a greenhouse manager for the student horticulture club for two years, which is where I refined my passion for watching things grow.”
Thus far, Moshman’s harvests at White Oak Pastures have been very small but enable the farm to incorporate mushrooms into dishes served at its open-air dining pavilion. The pavilion primarily feeds White Oak Pastures’ 100+ on-site employeesMonday through Saturday for lunch and features a daily special along with regular menu items. Friday and Saturday night supper is also served. Chef Reid Harrison often uses oyster mushrooms to make a sauce for braised rabbit or sautés them with lemon, garlic and butter to accompany a grilled chicken breast. He also marinates chicken of the woods mushrooms in a spicy teriyaki and grills them, and he serves foraged honey mushrooms atop a seasonal burger. White Oak Pastures’ mushrooms even make their way into the farm’s signature guinea fowl sausage.
“With increased pressure on our agricultural system to produce higher volumes of food for a growing population, mushrooms are coming into the spotlight as highly sustainable sources of nutrition that can be the star of a meal,” says Moshman. “I think all but the strictest carnivores would be willing to say that mushrooms can and do rival animal proteins in meatiness and savoriness.”
To help consumers understand just how much the mushroom can offer, Moshman hosts educational mushroom cultivation classes at White Oak Pastures. This year’s mushroom cultivation workshop is scheduled for March 7 from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and will include instruction on how to identify wild mushrooms and cultivate oyster mushrooms at home, a bag of oyster spawn, a tour of the farm and lunch at the pavilion for $65 per person. This class will be limited to 25 participants, so those who are interested must call White Oak Pastures’ farm events manager Jodi Harris-Benoit at 229-641-2081 to secure a spot.
“Our mushroom workshops serve as a way for us to increase public awareness on the versatility of mushrooms and how they can be incorporated into everyday meals, while also giving attendees a foundation for how to safely grow and forage for their own mushrooms,” says Harris-Benoit. “Participants can expect to learn about mushroom life cycles and various cultivation methods while also gaining hands-on experience inoculating hardwood logs and propagating oyster mushroom spawn.”
Since mushroom farmers can fall anywhere on a spectrum from backyard growers to cultivators with climate-controlled warehouses, Moshman feels it’s just as important for chefs and consumers to know their fungi suppliers as it is to know their protein and produce suppliers. White Oak Pastures already maintains a reputation as a reliable meat and poultry purveyor that chefs and consumers can count on and hopes to soon achieve that same reputation for fungi. The farm dedicates more than five acres of land to an organic vegetable garden, providing a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in which Moshman strives to incorporate mushrooms.
“We are looking forward to the day when we can give mushrooms to every member of our CSA at least a handful of times during the season,” she says. “We have come a long way from the raw, tasteless mushroom slices found in salad bars, and we’re venturing into a movement full of locally grown, flavorful fungi that have the potential to make nutritious and memorable meals."