Local farm makes room for mushrooms
Local mushrooms are making both meals and medicine.
Kalvin Stern and Rachel Davis own and operate Fiddlehead Knob, a mushroom farm in LeRoy, Minnesota. The farm is a 10-acre homestead that was owned and farmed by Davis’ grandfather.
Stern and Davis have always liked to hike as a couple. When they moved to Boone, North Carolina, after college, Stern began to learn more about foraging for wild mushrooms during hiking expeditions. The couple was also very involved in the local food scene in Boone. Stern worked at an organic farm and learned about growing mushrooms in outdoor beds.
When the couple returned home to Minnesota in 2018, they wanted to continue contributing locally grown food and started to make plans to open Fiddlehead Knob. They purchased the Davis acreage in 2019.
Fiddlehead Knob grows mushroom varieties including shiitakes, lions mane, blue oyster, and chestnut. “We are most proud of our shiitakes,” Stern said. He describes them as having an aromatic flavor that fits into many different styles of cuisine.
“The dense, meaty texture of the shiitakes makes it a great meat substitute as well,” he said.
Stern and Davis dry some mushrooms — like reishi and chaga, for instance — for medicinal purposes. After creating a double extracted tincture that removes both water and alcohol soluble properties in each mushroom, these medicinal mushrooms can be added to coffee or tea and support healthy immune systems.
Fiddlehead Knob uses both indoor and outdoor growing techniques. To grow mushrooms inside, the farm has a sterile lab, an incubation chamber and a fruiting chamber. The airflow, temperature, humidity, lighting, and carbon dioxide levels are all carefully regulated in these separate areas.
“Trying to mimic nature can be a delicate process and requires a lot of time and attention to detail,” Stern said.
Mushrooms grow on blocks made from sawdust and organic soy hulls. After mushrooms fruit, these grow blocks are composted back into the farm’s garden.
For outdoor growing, Fiddlehead Knob uses locally harvested logs shaded and protected from the wind by their pine trees to keep them from drying out. They have 1,800 logs that grow shiitake mushrooms. Stern says they strive to use forest farming practices that help them work closely with nature “while producing food and creating a healthy micro-biome” for their farm.
Besides growing mushrooms, Stern also forages for them in the wild. He’s certified by the Minnesota Mycological Society to forage and sell a variety of wild mushrooms. He hunts for wild mushrooms including morels, chicken of the woods, and chanterelles.
“In addition to being delicious and nutritious,” Stern said, “mushrooms are the earth's recycling system. They can take a waste product and turn it into food really fast. They can be especially helpful for areas that have gone through natural disasters and need a food source quickly.”
Mushrooms can be grown on wood chips underneath plants in a garden. They can also be planted in woods or as part of a landscaping. “They’ll keep coming back year after year like a perennial,” Stern said.
Stern and Davis say that Fiddlehead Knob farm is a family affair. They love taking their 2-year-old daughter, Eliza, out foraging with them and to help them sell their mushrooms at local markets. Their daughter says she loves checking on the “mush” each morning.
Fiddlehead Knob currently sells mushrooms they have grown and foraged at the Rochester Farmers Market. They also offer other mushroom-related items for sale, like grow kits. The Osage Farmers Market is another location Fiddlehead Knob is working with.
In addition, they also make weekly deliveries to the People’s Food Co-op in Rochester. Stern says you can find their oyster mushrooms stocked there. The farm hopes to keep expanding their business to work with local restaurants and businesses in southeastern Minnesota and northeastern Iowa.
Stern says the quick lifecycles of mushrooms make it fun to watch them grow. Both he and Davis are passionate about educating people about how they can grow their own mushrooms and be more confident about finding mushrooms in the wild.
“They are delicious, nutritious, and great for the earth,” Stern said. “We’re happy to be part of the local food scene in our area communities.”
- The Fiddlehead Knob mushroom farm is on the web at www.fiddleheadknob.com .
Did you know?
- Mushrooms are neither plants nor animals, but are genetically closer to humans than plants.
- Mushrooms don’t use photosynthesis and can grow in the dark because they absorb nutrients from organic matter. Some mushrooms even glow in the dark.
- Mushrooms are the fruit of fungi, and fungi are the largest life forms on Earth. The largest living organism on the planet is a honey mushroom in Oregon’s Malheur National Forest. It is at least 2,400 years old and is more than three miles wide.
John Sievers is a freelance writer in Rochester.