Farmers markets in the North Sound are a feast for the eyes as well as the palate, and when it comes to beautiful produce, our local bounty goes beyond just fruits and vegetables. In fact, sometimes the most interesting items on sale aren’t technically plants at all. If you’ve visited markets in Skagit and Snohomish counties, you’ll know that the Skagit Gourmet Mushrooms stall is truly a sight to behold– and these fungi are as tasty as they are eye-catching.
SGM founder Mark Rickard knows the visual impact his mushrooms make; as it happens, he was first inspired to try fungiculture after seeing a similar farmers market display. He already knew he wanted to pursue a career that involved raising food, and the idea of cultivating mushrooms was fascinating.
“I went home and immediately started researching how to grow mushrooms,” Rickard says. “I bought Paul Stamets’ book, ‘Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms.’ I read the first chapter and was like, this is what I’m going to do. We moved here, leased this property, and started figuring out how to do it.”
Now SGM has a loyal customer base of both retail and wholesale customers. His most popular varieties include the blue oyster mushroom, which has a milder taste, as well as the lion’s mane, which is distinctive in size and shape and tastes similar to crab. In addition, shiitake mushrooms are popular at markets because of their familiarity. Mushrooms such as golden oysters and cinnamon caps also sell quickly because, unlike other varieties, Rickard doesn’t stock them weekly.
As for Rickard’s favorite mushroom? He’s partial to maitake, also known as “hen of the woods”– though he doesn’t grow it himself. It “doesn’t play well with others,” and since each mushroom has a specific set of needs, Rickard has carefully chosen varieties that can be grown together with ease.
“Some of the mushrooms like a drier area, some like a wetter area, some like it wetter at certain periods of their life cycle,” Rickard says. “It takes time to figure out what to look for, how to look for it, and what a specific mushroom does in every situation.”
The cultivation process is also labor-intensive: A substrate of sawdust, hulled soy, and barley is packed into blocks, pasteurized, and inoculated with mycelium in a sterile environment. The blocks then go through various lengths of incubation time, after which they move into SGM’s multiple grow rooms that cater to each mushroom variety’s preferences for temperature, humidity, and light.
Given this complexity, it’s no surprise that Rickard’s journey has involved plenty of trial and error (he says has built and rebuilt his farm multiple times while figuring out what works best). However, after three and a half years of production, he’s found plenty of success– and there’s more than enough room for growth.
To meet increasing demand, Rickard is planning to scale up to a larger farm and hire more employees. His wife currently has a separate career, but the family’s goal is to expand the point that SGM can become a full-time family affair. Their five-year-old son, Dalton, loves accompanying his dad to the farm– even though he now understands that it’s not always fun and games.
“He knows that this means work and I can’t just play with him the whole time, but he loves harvesting mushrooms,” Rickard says. “I think that, as he gets older, [the farm] is kind of a tool [to show Dalton] that this is the type of work it takes. You can have fun, but you have to work, and all of us doing it together– that’s the goal.”
If you’re in the market for some mushrooms, check the website and Instagram at @skagitgourmetmushrooms to learn where the mushrooms will be sold next. skagitgourmetmushrooms.com