On behalf of Scotty Button and myself, Tye Tilt, and the handful of shiitakes still standing, thank you so much for your support and words of encouragement after the barn fire that destroyed the production building on the Mountain Valley Mushroom farm west of Driggs. Like farmers have for centuries, Scotty and I are picking up the pieces and moving forward. Many of you have asked what happened and how you can help… here’s the scoop:
On August 3rd I was awoken at 5:00 am by the shrill ring of the phone I assumed could only be my mother. The fire department notified me my barn was aflame. When I looked out the window it was fully engulfed. I assured them no one was inside. The fire trucks arrived but all they could do was save the propane tanks (which were full of $1000 of propane, so that was a positive). The fire started in the steamer box, where we cook the substrate used to grow the mushrooms.
There are four stages in growing mushrooms—making spawn or ”seed” in the lab, sterilization/inoculation, incubation, and growing. The barn fire destroyed the second stage—sterilization/inoculation. That’s where we fill plastic bags the size of a car battery with sawdust and chips then put them in a metal “steamer box” to heat them at 200 degrees for 12-15 hours. The mushroom blocks are then seeded with the spawn before being moved to another building for three months to incubate. It wasn’t the optimum way to produce mushrooms. But without the money to purchase a proper autoclave and other equipment, we designed a system that worked with the money we had.
Because the incubation and grow buildings were not destroyed, we can still be found at the farmer’s market pedaling the rest of this year’s harvest. But without the critical production building, we’ll soon be looking at empty space.
Unfortunately, the nightmare did not stop with the ashes. I subsequently found out I was underinsured by an agent who never came to the farm; a major client cancelled a large order; a local shop started ordering from an Oregon distributor; and my canine companion of 17 years, Willow, had to be put asleep. I think we have the makings of a bestselling C&W song.
So… on to rebirth. When you open the door to the grow room you are greeted with the message “There’s nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile.” Scotty and I have a solid desire to rebuild and a fluid plan to do it. This time around we are committed to designing and conducting a business that will increase production, reduce unit costs, and hopefully find that elusive sweet spot where food is local and fresh but with enough volume enough to make the venture economically viable and sustainable.
We are researching a large pole barn where everything could be done under one roof. We will need the proper equipment including an autoclave and batch mixer to develop a process that will hopefully create a handful of new jobs, use less propane per mushroom block, grow more species, and be able to serve a larger market. We also plan to do more “value added” products like dried mushrooms, spice mixes, etc.
Whether this is a story of a Phoenix reborn from the ashes or just ashes to ashes remains to be seen. What gives Scotty and I hope is our local community. If you find yourself for whatever reason wondering how to help, here’s a thought:
We are exploring the idea of a Halloween party benefit to kick-start the journey. We need:
- A band or two
- People willing to provide homemade food
- Local harvest items to sell- canned goods, harvest overflow, food, wine
- A party committee
For the business rebuild, Mountain Valley Mushrooms needs:
- A large building to possibly lease for the short term- at least 40 x 50 fee
- Graphic design to help with plotting of future farm
- Web design
- An intern
- Creative financing/investor angel
- Restaurant and wholesale commitments from Lander to Sun Valley
- Old grain bin- 16-feet or larger to store wood in
- Strong backs, helping hands, and a warm meal once in a while.
In closing, our sincere thanks for your interest and continued support.
Mountain Valley Mushrooms
Tye Tilt has served on the board of directors of Slow Food in the Tetons since it’s inception in 2007.