Whitecrest Mushrooms (Putnam, Ontario)
Located east of London, Ontario, Murray Good, his wife, and two sons own and operate the Whitecrest Mushrooms farm. Along with 38 farm hands, they grow brown agaricus – better known as Portobello and Crimini mushrooms. Although they grow 2 million pounds annually, comparatively, they are considered a small, family farm.
Why did you choose farming?
It’s my background – in fact, I’m the last of my extended family to still carry on the tradition. I wanted to stay in the business and raise my kids on a farm (they really get a kick out of it). And even though it’s hard work – and getting harder – it affords me a lifestyle flexibility I couldn’t otherwise get from other lines of work.
Why grow portobello and crimini mushrooms?
When I started out the portobello and crimini varietals seemed a little more niche and “up-and-coming” than white button mushrooms. The portobellos are also better for our prepared frozen food line, because they’re more meaty and dense. Plus, we market alongside our partners, Windmill Farms (white button mushrooms are kind of their thing, so we leave that to them). They have the contacts we need at retail, like Walmart, Longos, Loblaws – which is where you can find our portobello and crimini under the Windmill Farms label across the province.
How is mushroom farming different?
I guess the big difference is our growing cycle is every six weeks, instead of waiting an entire cropping year (365 days). I can learn what I did right or wrong fairly quickly.
It also means I learned my business a lot faster.
The other thing is you can grow mushrooms in a concentrated area (on shelves, vertically) which is more economical. On the other hand, it’s also more energy intensive because we have to control the mushroom’s environment, and more labour intensive because they’re hand-harvested. (This offsets any of the savings we get from growing in a smaller space.) Mushrooms also lend themselves well to being cultivated on urban farms, which is a trend that will only get more popular. They can be grown all year round, and are more predictable – less susceptible to damage from weather or disease.
Did You Know?Mushrooms are...
- available any time of the year
- the only crop that contains naturally occurring vitamin D
- being researched for their anti-cancer and other health-promoting qualities (understood by Eastern medicine for centuries)
- at home in the light or the dark (mushrooms don't care)
- not grown in manure, but in a sterile bed of pasteurized plant material of straw, hay, peat moss, and sometimes corn cobs
What to Remember When Buying:
- mushrooms get to the store within 24 hours, with a shelf life of 10 days
- look for a nice "tight" shape
- mushroom gills shouldn't be black (i.e. past their prime) but rather brown or pinkish
- the more "open" the mushroom is, the more mature and flavourful it is
Storing, Washing, Preparing Mushrooms:
- keep them in paper bag (if bought in plastic, take them out)
- regrigerate (1ºC)
- only require a light rinse under a tap (don't soak them) if cooking
- for use in a salad just wipe or brush them off with some paper towel (water will make them soggy and discoloured)
Ontario’s farmers play an important role in the fabric of our society. They contribute to Ontario’s economy, are good stewards of the land, and help to put fresh local food on our tables. These are some of their stories.