Wingstem Farms is a small producer in Bedford County. A vital part of its business is mushroom production. On the Farm has profiled Wingstem in an ongoing, occasional series examining mushroom growers in the Roanoke and Lynchburg regions, the obstacles they face, and their successes. This report is the latest in the series.
MONETA, Va. (WFXR) — Growing mushrooms in Virginia is on the rise. Consumer demand and health benefits are fueling the increase, and small farmers in the commonwealth are taking advantage of it.
One of those growing operations is Wingstem Farms near Moneta. Wingstem grows a variety of mushrooms that include shiitake, lion’s mane, and hen of the woods among others.
Mushroom production is a year-round process that begins with cutting logs in February to provide a growth medium for the fungi.
Once processed, those logs have to be inoculated with mushroom spawn.
“We’re trying to get an even spread of the mycelium,” said Mark Cohen as he gestured to one of the logs while explaining the log preparation process. “By going with this offset pattern, it allows us to do that faster.”
Cohen and his wife Lexi Rojahn own and operate Wingstem Farms.
Trees they harvested in February have provided hundreds of logs for inoculation. It is a process that involves a special tool that looks like a large hypodermic needle that is dipped in sawdust loaded with spawn and then injected into holes drilled into the logs.
“You can see some of the mycelium in the sawdust,” Rojahn said as she pointed to white lines in a clump of sawdust. “They get pretty well-colonized in about five months.”
It is a very social process, as a lively conversation was continuous around the table where the inoculation was taking place, but it is time-consuming, as well, and can take weeks to accomplish. That is why help from other farmers is welcomed. Wingstem is part of the Edible Goose Creek Cooperative. Brent and Anna Wills operate Bramble Hollow Farm, also part of the cooperative. On this day, the Wills joined in the effort, something that harkens back to days when farmers depended on each other to thrive.
“We’ve all become so independent in our lives,” said Brent Wills. “We don’t share in these activities anymore like generations have in the past.”
So, it was a group effort to process, inoculate, cap, tag, and move the logs. Once stacked outside, it comes down to occasional watering and patience.
“By generally August or September, we’ll be able to reap the benefits of this hard work,” Cohen said.
Other mushroom crops will be ready to go sooner and could be ready within the next few weeks. Wingstem Farms sells fresh and dried mushrooms direct to consumers, online, and at area farmer’s markets.