Today I made it to downtown St. Louis and met with Henry (son) and Nicola (mother) Macpherson, the owners of Ozark Forest Mushroom Farm. It was a super quick visit crammed-packed with information. I squeezed through the hustle and bustle as they unloaded inoculated substrate bags from the bed of a cargo van into a temporary greenhouse. He explained that a typical week for them is packed full of deliveries to restaurants Monday through Friday, from 8 am till 4 pm.
Henry continued to tour me around the farm; “And then we got another cooler over there. We tape them all up over here and put them in one of our two fancy branded boxes to drive them around 100 different restaurants, grocery stores, and CSAs in town. We sell 1000 to 2000 pounds of fresh mushrooms every week. It fluctuates dramatically, but it’s somewhere between 1000 to 2000 pounds almost always. But we grow probably somewhere between 400 and 1000 pounds a week. And then the other stuff we buy-in. So, I just picked up today. I picked up like 200 pounds of Hen Of The Woods and Maitake from Earth Angel Mushrooms. We mainly just sell fresh mushrooms, wild edibles, and also dried mushroom products.
My dad bought this building in the early 80s for nothing, and it’s gone quite upscale since then, but you can see it’s still partially dilapidated. Like we’re in a half-dilapidated warehouse, a half-fixed-up carriage house. It used to be like a motorcycle chop shop before my dad bought it. We rent the third floor of the house on Airbnb, and right now, we have a long-term two-year rental. We have a bunch of dried mushrooms we get in from various distributors. Andy is in charge of all the marketing, so we do it the old school way. It’s a lot of pen and paper, and we call most of the orders we get by phone or email. Andy makes the calls, and we have a schedule of what customers we contact and when they typically get deliveries. There’s a lot of last-minute stuff and many orders that we fulfill within 24 hours.”
Danielle: How was it growing up in Ozark Forest?
Henry: It was fun and a lot of work. We got some cute photos here. That’s me right there (Show picture) So, it’s like that. That’s a picture of down at the farm (Show picture). There’s me with a mushroom (Show picture).
I helped out a lot when I was a kid, and now, I help out full time as of two years ago. Before COVID, I moved back here after I finished graduate school. I had been looking for jobs then, and then COVID happened. My mom was freaking out. So I was helping out during that, and then I stayed ever since. It’s been dramatically busy, but it was pretty stressful for a couple of months because we primarily sell to restaurants. We were never like on the precipice or anything, but it was just really nerve-racking. There wasn’t a lot of money coming in for that first couple of months, just like everyone. But we’ve weaseled our way through it, and now it’s been busier than ever. In fact, we just bought a new building, maybe 10 minutes that way, that’s like 5,000 square feet with a big empty lot next to it like and then we’ll move this whole operation there, and it will be able to grow like four times as many mushrooms there and have more space as you can tell. It’s tightly packed here.
You said that your farm is approximately 400 acres, but it’s part of a 3000-family acre property?
Yes, my grandpa bought that back in the 50s. It’s mostly forest in those arcs, and the Shiitake operations are just like a five-acre area. Maybe two acres of it are Shiitake logs stacked in rows in the pine forest. Then there’s a little one-acre garden and 1,000 square foot greenhouse. We also grow all the log grown Shiitakes down there, which is what my mom started. We call that area ‘The heart of the operation’ because that is where this all started.
Do you sell Shiitake logs?
Yeah, we sell a couple of Shiitake logs, but we mostly just fruit them and sell them fresh to restaurants. We don’t sell grow bags very much, only a little bit every now and again. Our main purview is selling mushrooms for gourmet purposes.
You’re selling to restaurants, and you’re doing a farmer’s market, and you’re selling online?
Yeah, but the online business is only for local pickup on Fridays, and then we sell to a couple of local grocery stores, but we mainly sell all bulk.
So, you’re not messing around with the lab. Are you just primarily pumping out inoculated blocks?
Yeah, we’re fruiting inoculated blocks – from 5,000 to 10,000 Shiitake logs every year with spawn from field and forest mushrooms. We inoculate those down at the farm and fruit them all down there.
Do you have any partners in the mushroom business other than Field and Forest and Earth Angel?
We work with various distributors such as Foods and Season and South Mill Mushrooms in Pennsylvania because we also distribute Criminis and Portabellas. We sell around 12 varieties of fresh mushrooms every week. Then everything else is much smaller, like the dried mushrooms we get in from various distributors. The local excess product we dry and sell as well. We don’t have any waste.
Do you compost your spent substrates?
Yes. It goes down to the farm and gets composted to grow and process basil and peppers. We have a commercial kitchen down at the farm to produce hot sauce and various finished items: basil, arugula, and watercress to sell at the farmers’ market. In addition, we sell many dried products: truffle salt, the lion’s mane, porcini powder, mushroom jerky, and packages of dried mushrooms in one-ounce containers.
We buy fresh mushrooms from foragers on the West Coast and in Europe. And we purchase pre-dried mushrooms from all over, depending on whatever is available.
Are there any changes coming up?
Yeah, moving to that new building so we can keep doing the same thing but just a little bit larger scale while saving time, because of not having to go up and down stairs all the time and being able to use more like pallets, etc. We don’t want to be like a giant mushroom farm or anything like that. We like keeping it local but are trying to sell to some of the larger grocery store chains or something that might be a future move. But who knows?