As the raucous blues stomp of Led Zeppelin’s “Lemon Song” fades into another jam on the playlist, JD Merryweather grins with recognition at the beat now thumping from his outdoor speaker and tells me, “The Black Keys. They’re the official band of Oklahoma Mushroom!”
The weather is cool on this late afternoon, and crisp brown leaves shake free from limbs under a whistling autumn wind. JD’s cluster of small sheds and a brown aluminum trailer near Lake Arcadia may not look like much, but important things grow inside.
It could seem strange for one of the founders of COOP Ale Works to transition from brewing beer to growing fungus, but it’s a natural fit for JD. He’s swapped out the bready scent of boiling malt for the musty and earthy odor of mushrooms. “I grew up on a farm, so I’ve always loved having my hands in the dirt and working in that realm. What I really like is that mushrooms are a gourmet craft for me, but they’re also healthy, and contribute to the community that way,” JD shares with humble pride.
Years before being involved with either venture, he was an experienced forager. “When I lived in Sante Fe, New Mexico I used to go and forage morels near the ski area up in the Sante Fe Forest,” he tells me, reminiscing happily. “I used to sell five-gallon buckets of morels to the restaurants in Santa Fe. One season, I pulled like twenty-six five gallon buckets, and I could sell a whole bucket for about $400.”
Now, instead of hunting for mushrooms, JD is growing them. The hardwood cedar sawdust he uses for compost is sustainably sourced from a sawmill in Prague, OK. Rice meal and water are then blended with the cedar into bags that are sterilized in an autoclave. After cooling overnight in a sterile lab, spores are added to the bags, which are then left to grow in climate controlled rooms. Shiitake and lion’s mane, the two species that Oklahoma Mushroom is currently growing, both take about seven to nine weeks to fully fruit.
This relatively lengthy timetable has been JD’s most significant adjustment in his transition from making beer to farming mushrooms. Beer is usually ready to go after about two weeks, but mushrooms take much longer. JD reflects, “I’m so used to instant gratification. Farming teaches the essence of patience.”
When JD helped start up COOP, craft beer was still a niche market in Oklahoma City, and educating the public comprised a hefty portion of his work. That kind of advocacy has carried over into Oklahoma Mushroom. “I think you either love mushrooms, or you’re afraid of them. If I can take the same people who are, ‘Oh I don’t like dark beer!’ and turn them on to Gran Sport Porter, that rich coffee and chocolate, and all of a sudden they’re a huge convert, I think it’s the same way with mushrooms. You can kind of imprint people and tell them what to expect, and once they experience that they trust you as a valuable source.”
While at COOP, JD forged relationships with chefs and others in the local food scene. He hopes to build on those and disseminate his high-quality mushrooms into restaurants around the metro area. Avid at-home cooks should also keep a look out for the curiously furry lion’s mane or the familiar, button-topped shiitake when shopping for produce on the weekends. “What I’m excited about is how fresh these will be when I get them to people,” JD says with a grin. “If these are at the farmer’s market, they’ll be picked that day or the day before.”
Wherever JD’s mushrooms are to be found, you can select them with confidence. Oklahoma Mushroom is passionate about providing delicious and healthful fungus, grown with care.