From Foraging to Farming

Growing Mushrooms and Vegetables to Make Fresh Food Available for Everyone
By Samantha Butts

Mike Madden found his love for mushrooms through his mother’s cooking, through a creamy gravy with mushrooms and onions hidden inside, piled on top of tender cube steak. Clarissa, his wife, found her love for mushrooms through Mike. He would take her to Lincoln Woods or other forests in Bristol, RI to forage for mushrooms.

“It’s one of those things that we’ve always done,” said Mike, co-owner, along with Clarissa, of Grown-Up Farm in Belchertown, Massachusetts. 

Grown-Up Farm sits on an acre of land on a quiet road punctuated by other neighboring farms. The farm produces microgreens, mushrooms, and other vegetables such as broccolini, artichokes, yellow beans, and white cucumbers. When they started selling their produce back in 2020, after purchasing the land in 2018, they decided to grow vegetables that you could not get at the other farms nearby. Clarissa said, “We didn’t want to step on any toes and we didn’t want to compete with anybody.”

The farm is made up of greenhouses, which Mike constructed himself, plus rows of seedlings, a geese coop, and a dairy boxcar, which is not what it seems. Inside the dairy box is the mushroom farm with three grow tents inside providing the fungi a controlled environment.

About 10 years ago, after years of foraging together, the pair decided to start growing their own mushrooms. “We wanted to grow our own because we were sick of the bugs and the seasonality and just not knowing what was out in the forest,” said Mike. In the forest, they had an idea of what everything was, but it was often difficult to be sure leading them to send pictures to other foraging friends to be sure what they picked was safe to eat.

When they started growing their own, they mostly stuck with oyster mushrooms, because they’re relatively easy and have a quick turnaround time, plus, they are nutrient-dense. They dabbled with shiitakes, but never stuck with them as they are trickier to grow.

A majority of the mushrooms in the United States are shipped from Pennsylvania, so by the time they get into stores, they can be beaten up, and their shelf life is considerably shorter. The Maddens’ mushrooms last up to a week and a half, sometimes even two.

Along with the mushrooms they grow, the couple sells mushroom grow kits. The kits come in several different oyster varieties, including king blue, phoenix pink, and gray. The kits come inside of a brown home compostable box. Inside the box is a block of supplemented sawdust that has been injected with a liquid culture syringe that contains living Mycelia cells. With the kit comes instructions for growing the mushrooms and a small spray bottle for misting.

The kit should yield up to two pounds of mushrooms split between two growth periods. The first flush happens quickly, resulting in full-grown mushrooms in about five days once they start sporing. After the first growth, you can flip the sawdust square upside down and start the process over again. The second round is a bit slower and can take a few weeks to grow again.

After meeting the Maddens, I took home my own box of soon-to-be king blue oyster mushrooms. “We want it to be fun,” said Mike. It was certainly exciting seeing new growth every day.

This year, Clarissa applied for the FY22 Food Security Infrastructure Grant Program. The Food Security Infrastructure Grant Program was created to ensure that individuals and families throughout Massachusetts have access to food, with a focus on food that is locally produced and equitable access to food. If the Maddens receive this grant it could be a game-changer and push them closer to the vision they have for Grown-Up Farm. The grant could allow them to double their production and reach out to more communities, which is one of their main goals.

“I want everyone to be able to have access regardless of their income status,” said Clarissa. As their farm grows, Clarissa wants them to be able to offer their produce in more communities and towns in western Massachusetts. She acknowledges that many people do not have access or the money to buy fresh food from farmer’s markets and often have to purchase their vegetables at the average grocery store, food that has been shipped and packaged and is less than fresh.

Grown-Up Farm, 296 South St, Belchertown, MA. Their produce can be found at markets in Hadley, Belchertown, Sturbridge, and Chicopee. They also sell their products at Mill Valley Milk Store, Phoenix Fruit Farm, and Atkins Farm.


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