In early May, it’s all about the shrooms in Vermont. To celebrate the end of winter and the heart of spring, Shiitakepalooza kicks off. While the name may bring images of bands singing about mushrooms and food trucks serving nothing but dishes that contain everyone’s favorite fungi, this mushroom festival is more about bringing a community together.
The annual event, which is in its sixth year, takes place in Middlebury, Vermont, which had a population of under 10,000 people in 2010. Around 100 members of this tight knit community gather at Eddy Farm to help farmers prepare their shiitake crops. Only two farmers tend to Eddy Farm, so they can use all the help they can get.
The greatest thing about Shiitakepalooza, though, is that while participants help out their neighbors, they also get to learn how to grow their own mushrooms. If you’ve ever taken a walk through a damp forest and seen mushrooms growing on a log, then you know how they grow in the wild. Well, that’s also how they grow on a farm. The way it’s done on a farm is, of course, more organized, but the same method is used. Suitable logs are planted with spawn of shiitakes.
New mushrooms don’t sprout overnight, however. It takes up to a year for the mushrooms to grow into their full glory. Not only do attendees learn how this particular type of mushroom grows, but they get to take their own log home to start their very own farm. This particular type of mushroom is thought to be a superfood, so not only will participants have the satisfaction of growing a plant on their own, but they’ll also possibly benefit from the nutrients contained in these delicious vegetables.
Growing shiitakes is certainly a specialty. Even though it is a skill that someone must learn, the number of people growing shiitake mushrooms has risen every year since 2012. Not only are there more growers, but more people are purchasing this food for more money as well.
A lot of mushrooms are simply just grown in sawdust. It’s actually the method of growing the mushrooms on logs, as people are taught at Shiitakepalooza, that produces a more valuable product. Consumers will pay as much as $16-$20 a pound for them in the Northeast.
According to the USDA, in 2014-2015 more than 200 people had at least 200 logs sprouting shiitake mushrooms. This is a rise of more than 30 people when this group was last counted in 2012-2013. Part of the reason that shiitakes that are grown on logs are so much more valuable than their sawdust counterparts is because growing them this way is more time consuming and is considered an art form, almost like bonsai. That’s actually why Shiitakepalooza was organized initially, to give the farmers some extra help in planting these time-consuming crops.
So, if your shiitake log has gone bad or you’d like some extra income, stop by Shiitakepalooza next year and gain a new appreciation for this great delicacy.