Business Is Mushrooming

Mycoterra Farm saw a niche and filled it - deliciously

By Leslie Lynn Lucio | Recipe photographs by Dominic Perri

When Julia Coffey decided, as an experiment, to start growing mushrooms for sale, she had no idea how much of a part of her life they would become. Now the owner of Mycoterra Farm, started in 2010 at her home in the woodlands of western Massachusetts, Julia started with a small amount of savings, some previously owned mushroom equipment, and 15 years of studying fungi.

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She decided to take a chance on something that was familiar to her and felt it would complement the local agricultural economy in the Pioneer Valley.

“As a friend of people running farms or working on farms, [I saw that] pretty much all the vegetables were covered, animal products, dairy ... The Valley had everything but year-round mushrooms and I wasn’t quite prepared for the demand I would find,” says Julia.

In Mycoterra’s first year, she maintained a full-time job while taking on the risk of starting her own business. She got into the Williamsburg farmers’ market with the help of a friend; at that time she only sold oyster mushrooms, merely a few pounds a week. River Valley Market in Northampton started selling Julia’s mushrooms and to this day she still works with them.

Last year she finally decided that it was time to focus on Mycoterra full time. Currently, Mycoterra sells at six markets in the summer as well as six winter markets. Julia’s mushrooms are served in restaurants in the Valley as well as restaurants in the Boston area. In addition, Julia runs a mushroom CSA so, like many farms in the Pioneer Valley, she makes it easy for people to get their pickups from whichever farmers’ market is most convenient from where they live. She does this in the spring, summer, and winter.

To support this growing demand, the Mycoterra farm has grown from one small room to multiple heated greenhouses, complete with radiant-heat flooring. Julie describes the growth this way: “I cut through the walls and started using this room. Within two months I outgrew this room and eventually everything started spilling out.” She jokingly adds, “I’m inhaling these spores and they’re getting in my brain and driving me. I sometimes I feel like I’m not running the mushroom farm, but it’s running me. It’s my life.”

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When walking through Mycoterra Farm, one can easily understand what Julia means. There are hundreds of spawn bags lined up in rows on racks with varieties of stunning mushrooms including shiitake, lion’s mane, oyster and enokitake. The mushrooms all start out looking like bags of sawdust. As they fruit, the mushrooms evolve from sawdust to small knobs (what Julia calls the “popcorn” stage) to mature, full grown mushrooms.

Even with a background in chemistry and environmental science, Julia says her intuition plays a big role in her success.

“There is always more to figure out. There’s the big learning curve on the intuition. When I’ve really been trying really hard, being really attentive, it’s like they’re not growing for me. When I back off and give them more room, they explode and things are smoother.”

Julia appreciates this little niche of mushroom farming and feels a sense of responsibility in her work. It’s important to her that Mycoterra Farm leaves the planet better than they found it. She does this by using agricultural and forestry byproducts, using natural methods of production to accelerate decomposition, and helping build soil and encourage cycling of nutrients, something critical and beneficial for a healthy ecosystem.

It’s clear that a lot of work has been put into her farm, a true labor of love, and Julia recognizes that hard work pays off, and clearly thanks those who have helped her along the way.

“I think it’s paid off over time. I felt shut out at first, then I got my respect and that struggle has gone away.” Down the road, Julia would love to build more. With the direction Mycoterra is going, there is no doubt of that happening.

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Mycoterra mushrooms can be found at these farmers’ markets: Amherst, Egleston (Jamaica Plain), Farmers’ Market at Forest Park (Springfield), Florence, Northampton (Saturday and occasionally Tuesday), and Roslindale. River Valley Market carries Mycoterra mushrooms year-round.

MycoterraFarm.com

mycoterrafarm@gmail.com

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Leslie Lynn Lucio has enjoyed cooking and baking since she was a small child, as well as being an involved member of the local community. She can found running Beets & Barley Catering (BeetsAndBarley.com) and at LeslieLynnLucio.com. She can be reached at info@beetsandbarley.com.

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