Much to love about mushrooms
Mushroom lovers rejoice! Meet an Iowa farmer who grows gourmet mushrooms locally.
Allamakee County Farm Bureau member Tanner Sanness of Reconnected Farms near Dorchester grows between 300 to 400 pounds of fresh specialty mushrooms in a re-purposed refrigerated semi trailer every week and is extremely knowledgeable about the fungi world.
Reconnected Farms won the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation’s 2023 “Grow Your Future” Award, which promotes the innovative spirit in young farmers, ages 18-35, who create businesses within niche markets, agritourism, ag services or specialty products.
From a business that began on his kitchen counter, Sanness has researched, experimented and gleaned knowledge about mushrooms every step of the way.
Sanness loves foraging and finding different types of mushrooms. “I always foraged more than just morels,” he explained. He routinely found chanterelles and maitake mushrooms, also known as hen-of-the-woods.
He listened to podcasts, watched YouTube videos and learned about the health benefits of mushrooms. He decided to grow different varieties on his own. The climate-controlled refrigerated trailer he uses now houses four varieties of mushrooms: oyster, Lion’s Mane, chestnut and pioppino (also known as Black Poplar). Of the four, Sanness said the oyster mushroom is the most versatile and the one he sells the most to restaurants.
The growing season is year-round, especially since the climate in the refrigerated trailer can be kept to a constant 55 to 58 degrees in the winter and 65 to 68 degrees in the summer, with a humidity level of 93%. Shelves of grow blocks with bunches of oysters peeking through line the trailer as the visible humidity provides an optimal environment.
“The mushroom industry is really growing,” said Sanness. “Mushrooms are a superfood, and fungi are a different kingdom in themselves.” He explained there are so many varieties of mushrooms and people are discovering more of them, due to their expanding palates.
There are many ways to enjoy mushrooms in different recipes. While Sanness likes to stir-fry them in a wok with venison, vegetables and rice, he also loves to pan fry them in plenty of butter at high heat.
Other recommendations include dehydrating the mushrooms and putting them in ramen, adding to burgers and steaks, and putting in soups and stews. “The taste of pioppino mushroom stems reminds me of asparagus,” he said. “Chestnut mushrooms have tops that are orange-colored that dye a soup and add a nutty flavor.”
Lion’s Mane mushrooms are the favorites of what Sanness grows. He recommends a dry sauté on high heat for about 10 minutes (or until they get crispy). “Cook the liquids out, turn the heat down and add butter and garlic,” Sanness instructs. “Then cut into 1/2-inch slices. These mushrooms have an almost identical texture to crab.”
Because Sanness makes deliveries to many restaurants in the area, odds are good that if he orders something off the menu containing mushrooms, they probably have come from Reconnected Farms. One of those restaurants is Blazing Star in Decorah. “They make these terrific bowls that have our mushrooms in them. I don’t know how they do it, but they are delicious!” he said.
Sarah Cousins, one of the owners of Blazing Star said, “We love Tanner’s mushrooms, and he is a joy to work with. We both started our businesses at similar times so it’s been fun to see our enterprises grow side by side.”
She added, “Our customers compliment the mushrooms more than anything else on our menu."
Her favorite way to prepare mushrooms is to toss in a bit of neutral oil (like sunflower oil), season with salt, smoked paprika and chili flakes “for a bit of spice,” and then spread them in a single layer on a sheet pan, roasting in the oven for about 20 minutes at 375 degrees, or “until they are nice and crispy.”
For those people who say they “don’t eat mushrooms,” Sanness compares them to vegetables. “There are more species of mushrooms than plants,” he said. “If people don’t like one vegetable, they might like another. The same goes for mushrooms.”
Growing (and eating) locally is also of extreme importance to Sanness. He said that 75% of mushrooms are imported, even though they can be labeled as “local.” He gave an example of shiitake mushrooms, where the whole process is done overseas and then sent to the U.S. to finish growing, thus earning the label of ‘local.’ “They aren't being locally done, and this is a huge need,” according to Sanness. “We’re way behind!” he said.
This is one of the major reasons he got into this unique business in the first place. Sanness said he knows of two other mushroom growers in Iowa, and he also talked about other people who are interested in getting into the business. “Some people who think they might want to grow mushrooms themselves have come to see what I do and they’ve said, ‘That’s a lot more work than I thought!’” he laughed.
It’s indeed a family business as he needs help with the ever-growing demand for mushrooms. His dad, sister and a high school employee are on board now. Besides delivering to restaurants, Sanness stocks his product at area grocery stores and farmers markets and has recently started to ship mushrooms. Orders can be placed on his website at www.reconnectedfarms.com.
As for the future, Sanness says the grow cycles reflect consumer demand. Word is spreading as more consumers become curious about the many species of mushrooms. “I definitely want to grow shiitake mushrooms,” he said. “We couldn’t grow as many mushrooms as we do now, though, as shiitake mushrooms take
12 weeks while oyster mushrooms take only 3.” With the popularity and demand of mushrooms, he needs as much space and turnover as possible.
Mushroom lovers may soon have some company as others venture out beyond their current palates to discover some delicacies they were afraid to try in the past. The health benefits, the importance of eating local, and the amazing taste just might make new fans of fungi. And old fans, rejoice as there are so many more mushrooms to try. “Weird people keep us in business,” Sanness laughed. “Oh … and make sure you say weird people like me!”
Murray is a freelance writer from Mason City.
Photo by Conrad Schmidt
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