Local farmers bring specialty mushrooms to BR restaurants
As the Baton Rouge restaurant business keeps booming, the push to source local ingredients has become the new normal with Mushroom Maggie’s Farm leading the way. Cyrus Lester and Maggie Long’s mushroom farm opened in July of 2016, but the couple’s want to be farmers started long before that.
Maggie got her foot in the door of the farming business while working as a buyer for Whole Foods; she then met Cyrus and the two knew they wanted to grow something for the Baton Rouge community that wasn’t already being offered, but also something they could farm all year round.
“We just researched, started off at the library on the Internet and it got narrowed down to specialty crops. We came across the mushrooms and nobody here was doing it,” Maggie said. “We weren’t even really into mushrooms beforehand but after reading about it, they’re just so interesting.”
Once the couple knew their crop, it was time to develop a way to grow them. They start with making bags of fertilizer that will be their base; they are sterilized and steamed to get the moisture content right, and then the mushroom mycelium is added, so it can start to grow. By the time the mycelium has colonized, the once brown fertilizer will have turned almost completely white and its time for the mushrooms to fruit.
Right now the farmers offer shiitakes, chestnuts, lion’s mane, oysters (golden, blue/grey, and Italian), king trumpets, and chanterelles (chanterelles being the only mushroom they forage for). Their options aren’t your average button or crimini, but these mushrooms have much more nutritional value.
“The mushrooms are all pretty high in protein. So your regular button and portabella mushrooms, they have very little to no nutritional value. A lot of people love buttons and portabellas because that’s what they know,” Cyrus said this is a tougher conversation to have with some of their customers, but the options they offer are not only more delicious, but also nutritious. “These mushrooms all have tons of vitamins, are high in protein, and all of them have medicinal benefits.”
Its for these reasons over 25 restaurants, and counting, in Baton Rouge have added Mushroom Maggie’s to their menus. Their knowledge and love for their crop shows, and so many have been willing to expand their palate and give their mushrooms a try.
You can find Maggie and Cyrus with their mushrooms every Saturday at the Farmer’s Market to try them for yourself. There are plenty of options to choose from, but check out the three that we recommend getting a taste of.
Photos by Sean Gasser