Photo: gynti_46, Flickr
The Big Springs region of the Missouri Ozarks has been designated as one of the "Last Great Places" by the Nature Conservancy, thanks in no small part to people like Nicola MacPherson. As owner of Ozark Forest Mushrooms, she's doing her part to preserve the unique ecology of the region while at the same time bringing its best culinary offerings to the masses. Her operation, run from a family-owned farm located along a picturesque, limestone ridge detour of Sinking Creek, grows shiitakes as nature intended: on logs, in the forest.
Read more about Ms. MacPherson's adventures in fungal farming after the jump.
"Twenty years ago, I was teaching biology in Britain and raising goats on the side. Now, I have the best of both worlds; I spend everyday immersed completely in a biological wonderland cultivating, learning and advocating for mushrooms. And trust me: shiitakes are much easier to work with than either goats or schoolchildren.
We also grow oyster mushrooms here, and we have a vegetable garden. But shiitakes are our primary focus. The microclimate here in the Big Springs region, with its vast oak forests and clean water springs, is ideal for them. We have about 18,000 shiitake logs now, and all of the mushrooms we harvest from them are organically certified under the new Organic Food Act.
We take pride in our commitment to preserving the ecology of the region. We follow the guidelines of the Stewardship Incentive Program, as administered by the Missouri Department of Conservation, to insure our harvested mushroom bed logs are renewable. Our packaging is minimal, with soy based inks and recycled paper used. We're planning to build a solar greenhouse so that we can expand our production through the winter months. We would use our spent logs to heat the building; This would definitely give us a sustainable supply of winter mushrooms.
Growing shiitakes is a labor intensive, time consuming process. It's not easy. I do it because of my love of both shiitakes and nature as a whole. Plus, I feel like I'm helping to promote sustainable forest management and contribute towards the rural economic development of the Ozark region.
I love it when I hear from satisfied customers, particularly area chefs. Lots of prominent people involved in the St. Louis food scene swear by our shiitakes. Their loyalty to our mushrooms, our policies, and us as people make all of our hard work worth it."