Friday, September 2, 2011

In the Market for Mushrooms
Written by Phoebe

For most people my age, Saturday means a blissful morning of sweet sleeping in. For me, however, it means the farmers' market. Preparing for, and participating in the Green Bay Farmers' Market is quite the process, and if you’re interested, you can read all about it in the next few paragraphs!

This is the basic look of our set up at the farmers' market in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
The market is not just a Saturday morning event. In fact, the market more or less starts with the harvesting of the mushrooms up to a week before. To keep the mushrooms fresh, we pick them, place them in large plastic storage tubs, filling them only half full. We then immediately put them into a walk-in cooler until they are completely chilled, and then put the tub lid on until they are ready to be sold. This allows quick cooling and less condensation on the tub lid, keeping the mushrooms dry and fresh. The night before the market, we go through the process of grading mushrooms, separating out damaged, stained or wet mushrooms for our own use, then load the truck with the displays. We used to avoid selling the small “baby” shiitake (something all too common in the hot summer for log grown shiitake), but have found that many people prefer the smaller ones. A box of babies looks like A LOT of mushrooms, plus people like the “chef ready” benefit because if the baby mushrooms are tender enough, you can eat them stem and all; no chopping required!

The next morning the alarm will go off at 5:00 am, at the very latest (5:15 if you happen to be an older brother down for the weekend to help out). First on the agenda is, of course, starting the coffee maker. We then trudge out to the cooler to finish loading the truck up with the chilled mushrooms. A half an hour after I wake up, with coffee in hand, we set out to Green Bay. The market starts at seven, but we have to leave with enough time to get to the market and set up our booth, which usually takes 30-45 minutes.

This lively chap, Nik (son of Joe and Mary Ellen), is enjoying a lovely morning at the market.
After struggling to set up our slightly dilapidated tent that offers shade for both the mushrooms and ourselves, we set up our folding banquet table, table cloth and wooden display rack which my dad built to put all the mushrooms closer to eye level. Our “city certified” scale and orange crate holds the bags and cash box. Finally, we get around to weighing out the mushrooms. I enjoy simplicity in prices, so to make early morning life easier, we weigh out all of the tills to a quarter pound. We weigh them into plastic mushroom tills for display that can be emptied into brown paper sacks that have detailed mushroom handling and recipes printed on the outside (Field and Forest Products sells these great market bags). We sell the shiitake and oysters for three dollars a box, and the wild mushrooms, maitake, and lion’s mane for four dollars a box. I often try to bring out my creative side when placing mushrooms in the tills by putting three different colored oysters in one box. It makes the display very pleasing to the eye. We also sell a mixed “sampler” till that has a few of each kind of mushroom that we have available that day, so people can try new varieties.

Pictured here are three color variants of our oyster mushrooms: Grey Dove, Pink and Golden.
If the forecast is calling for fiendishly hot weather, we freeze ice cube sheets several days earlier. We constructed a box-shaped sleeve out of Cool Shield insulated bubble wrap, which can cover 4 tubs, and by layering the ice cube sheets between tubs and covering the whole works with Cool Shield, the mushrooms stay chilled for the whole morning.

As much as we are tempted to bring our other garden produce to the market, we stick to mushrooms. We try to bring as much of a variety of mushrooms that we can. Sometimes this is limited to only shiitake and oyster mushrooms. If the weather cooperates, we bring lion’s mane, maitake and king oyster, and if we get lucky while mushroom hunting, we will bring morels, chicken of the woods, or chanterelles.

We also try to have a few fun displays to make the market educational and bring in kids. The “Mushroom of the Week” display, especially during the wild mushrooming times of later summer and early fall, always brings people into the booth and we get to hear lots of mushroom stories. We also sell our ready-to-fruit shiitake mushroom kits; people like these because they are discounted and they don’t have to pay for shipping. We display a fruiting kit to attract attention; people just have fun looking at it whether they buy one or not! We’ve also noticed that a lot of Field and Forest Products’ spawn customers sell ready-to-fruit shiitake logs at their markets; they almost do better in total selling with those than the mushrooms themselves.

With the bizarre varieties of oyster mushrooms, ranging from gray to pink, we often draw eyes, and get the question, “Are these real?” or “Are these poisonous?” Well, yes to the first question, and definitely a no to the second. As my dad always says, “We like repeat business!”

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