Whatever you think about climate change, you’ve heard the buzzword “sustainability.”
Besides any environmental concerns, produce growers have good financial motivation to do more with less — thus striving to avoid depleting natural resources.
Yet working with those values in mind is easier for mushroom people. The unique indoor growing process for mushrooms lends itself to a minimal carbon footprint, although there’s always room for progress.
And the “greener” an agricultural commodity is, the more likely millennial shoppers will buy it.
“We’re getting more competition than we used to,” said Meghan Klotzbach, regulatory manager and fifth generation of the family-founded Mother Earth, a grower, shipper and wholesaler of organic mushrooms in Landenberg, Pa.
Celebrating 100 years in business in 2019, Mother Earth transitioned into organic mushrooms in 1989. Then the company returned 60% of its product to conventional in the 1990s, when organics accounted for only 1% of the market, but Mother Earth returned to 100% organic in 2013.
The demand is there. Neilsen reports 73% of millennials worldwide are willing to pay more for sustainable goods.
The foundation of all good mushrooms is each company’s special blend of compost, often created from the waste of other farms, said Joe D’Amico, the fourth-generation of the family-run To-Jo Mushrooms in Avondale, Pa.
He proudly pointed to the naturally steaming bales stacked four high and made from wheat straw, which is what shoots out the back of combines when wheat farmers harvest.
“Here, we have a use for that. Not everywhere do wheat farmers have an outlet for their leftovers,” D’Amico said. Fifty yards away is a mini-mountain of cocoa bean hulls, a byproduct of the nearby Hershey chocolate factory.
To-Jo recycles more than 50,000 tons a year of farm byproducts, including its own water, mulch, hay, corn cobs, cocoa and cotton seed hulls, straw stable bedding, and poultry waste.
Phillips Mushroom Farms, Kennett Square, Pa., is slowly changing its thousands of neon light bulbs to LED bulbs, which are more energy-efficient and shatter-proof — thus preventing shards from dropping into plants, said Peter Gray, exotics grower.
Like To-Jo, Mother Earth buys compost from farms that produce it as a byproduct, and then sells its spent compost to places that can use it for potting soil and other functions.
“It’s a closed loop of sustainability,” Klotzbach said.
— See how mushrooms are made and what the exotic varieties look like in this slide show.