NH Mushroom Company
A Tale of a Farm and Many Fungi
When you arrive at NH Mushroom Company in Tamworth, a farm is not the first thing that comes to mind. After driving through the scenic town edged by water and home to many historic, locally-sourced businesses and working farms, it wouldn’t be unlikely if a farm were what lay at 153 Gardner Hill Road. But instead of manicured fields and families of mushroom-bearing trees, your car shifts into park outside of a barn-like building at the end of a long dirt driveway, neighbored by residential homes. Much to your surprise, the year-round farm is inside.
A top shelves that line most of the 5,000-square-foot space, bags tightly packed with a combination of red oak sawdust, water, limestone and organic wheat middlings serve a very important purpose: they are imitating a tree. These nature replicas are no larger than your cereal box, but they take on a colossal role. The plastic bag substrate acts as tree bark, harboring the soil ingredients inside to create the perfect habitat for spawn (or mushroom mycelia, the actual organism of a mushroom itself) to grow.
After a very particular process involving just the right temperature, sterilization and growing conditions, up to fifteen species of fungi fruit inside the farm. “Mushrooms are more closely related to humans than they are plants,” says Eric Milligan, one of the company’s owners, with a chuckle. What he means by this is mushrooms take in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Essentially, they are breathing.
“Out in the wild a mushroom doesn’t want to fruit... a mushroom fruiting is a defense mechanism,” says Milligan. When the spawn inside the bag substrate runs out of room, it must fruit to continue its natural expansion. Lucky for them and very conveniently for us, the conditions inside NH Mushroom Co.’s grow rooms are just right to coax the fungi into fruiting. “That’s the spore-bearing, fleshy-bodied result of a mycelial network trying to expand out and propagate itself,” says Milligan. These flowering, edible bodies that form on the outside of the block substrate look similar to giant, blossoming barnacles clinging to a square rock.
Even with perfect conditions and working equipment, life inside the farm requires constant attention. “It’s key to point out that we share the same worries as a produce farmer,” says Milligan. Beds (in the form of bag substrates) have to be prepared, planting occurs with the introduction of spawn, the fungi grow, and then they’re harvested and sold. For a mushroom farmer, however, the growing season is every seven days.
The mushroom industry has boomed over the last 20 years, with specialty and medicinal mushrooms becoming especially popular. NH Mushroom Co. offers both. The market demand is currently at four to five thousand pounds of mushrooms per week, and NH Mushroom Co. is only able to produce a weekly 1,200 pounds on site due to space restrictions. To meet this growing need, NH Mushroom Co. has partnered with businesses in the Northeast like Maine Cap N’ Stem, North Spore and Motown Mushrooms in Vermont who a year ago would be considered their competition. “Each one of us has a component that the other one does a little better,” says Milligan. Now, a collective effort is being made, and decades worth of information is being shared toward one final goal: Satisfying the people’s call for fungi.
In collaboration with these other businesses, NH Mushroom Co. is able to streamline mushroom production. Milligan also started a program that offers people in the area the opportunity to have their own mushroom grow rooms in their home using grow pods and equipment he engineered himself. For some of these contract growers, this means a steady income during the winter when outdoor farms typically stagnate.
For the future, NH Mushroom Co. wants to keep educating people about mushrooms and their immense health benefits. A collaborative cookbook is also currently in the works, with over 80 recipes created by the company’s resident chef Kaylon Sweet in partnership with other New Hampshire names including Tamworth Distilling, Sap House Meadery, Hobbs Tavern, Salt Cellar and Fiori Artisan Olive Oils & Vinegars in Maine. In all of these endeavors, Milligan keeps one thing especially in mind: “[We’re getting into] a larger market while still keeping the values of what farming was — a community, a collective of people helping people.”