Fungi! Great mushrooms grown indoors

A few weeks ago we received an application for a mushroom vendor for the NoDa Farmers Market. We have had a great variety of local growers since we started in May this year. Vegetables, fruit, beef, pork, chicken, duck, eggs, juices and honey, but we always hoped we'd find someone to bring fungi to the market. We couldn't have been happier for this pleasant surprise!

Our goal with the market is to bring as much great variety as possible, and fresh mushrooms would fill in what we felt was a gap. What we didn't realize was the amazing product we'd end up seeing and the amazing indoor urban farm that Hiram Ramirez, Jeffrey Mason and Michelle Smith have set up in a south Charlotte warehouse. I've seen many locally grown mushrooms at local markets, and have bought innoculated logs from the vendors as well. Most grow them outside or in shed or garage type structures and most grow in innoculated logs. This type of growing is fine, but you are subject to the seasons and the whims of weather. This is not the case with these guys!

We visit all farms that sell at the market, and this one was no exception. Urban Gourmet Farms is located in a warehouse in a sea of warehouses off Griffith Road beside I-77 near Tyvola. The non-descript exterior at the very back of the building didn't give any clue to the unique "farm" inside. As soon as the door opened, though, you could smell it. Musty and earthy, an "underground" or deep forest sort of smell. Nothing bad for sure. Not rot or something turning, but definitely different. We were greeted by the Hiram and Jeffrey who seemed excited to show off their hard work, their laboratory, and their growing rooms.

To grow mushrooms inside consistently you really want to control the environment. Temperatures, light, humidity - these are all essential to maintain and control in order for the fungi to grow. Inside the warehouse they've contructed two grow rooms (only one on our visit, two operating now). These were framed out and insulated and shelveing from floor to ceiling added. Hand-built humidity control devices plus air conditioning units were added and thermostats keep everything at an even and never changing state.

The mushrooms themselves are grown in plastic bags filled with either hardwood sawdust or straw as the growming medium. To this medium spores for the various varieties they grow are added. The spores, over time, take over the medium and mushrooms pop out of small holes cut into the bags. Each bag will have a few runs of mushrooms before the medium and its nutrients have expired and new bags filled with new medium and new spores take their place.

Currently they are growing shittake, maitake (hen of the woods), lions mane, trumpet and two varieties of oyster mushrooms. The response at the market (and at local restaurants) has been fantastic. Block & Grinder and Futo Buta Ramen jumped in quickly to add these shrooms to their menus and dishes and more are lining up.

We've been delighted to have these guys at the market in general, both to provide their product to our customers and clients, but also for our kitchen! We love to cook and these mushrooms are an incredible ingredient that we've added to our "must buy every Saturday" list.

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