Farm flourishes with fungus


By Diane Blakemore - dblakemore@civitasmedia.com



Ernie and Cathy Wheeler harvest oyster mushrooms from their outdoor site at Borrowed Land Farm.


Oyster mushrooms are propagated indoors at Borrowed Land Farm year round.


PINNACLE — One farm in the Pinnacle community is working to get rid of an abundance of fungus. Adding mushrooms to the many things they raise at Borrowed Land Farm, the crop has done well this season.

As a portion of a larger family farm called Raven Ridge, Borrowed Land shares basic farming principles. With a strong family background in farming, the Wheelers have grown wheat, sweet potatoes, corn, hay, and grapes, as well as raising sheep, pigs, chickens, and rabbits. The farm is also one of only 52 in the state participating in a program to grow milkweed for Monarch butterflies.

The family has a strong dedication to sustainable practices with a focus on education. “We start small to find the best practices with practical applications,” said family patriarch Richard Wheeler, explaining that some things that can be done on one scale do not translate as practical options for other size operations.

They have worked systematically to find a successful approach to producing each of the things on their farm on a variety of scales, knowing that all families have different needs and resources. “We want to show people what it would take for them to do this on their own,” said Richard.

Borrowed Land Farm is run by Ernie and Cathy Wheeler with assistance from their two sons. They raise rabbits, pigs, and chickens, and now they offer mushrooms.

With a background in biology and chemistry Cathy, a Surry Community College science teacher, lights up just thinking about mushrooms. “I just love mushrooms, checking them every day and watching them grow,” Cathy said, savoring their aroma.

“We started out wild foraging,” said her husband, explaining that edible oyster mushrooms could be found in abundance on their property. With a unique flavor and texture, oyster mushrooms are like nothing found in the grocery store.

From there the couple began cultivating the native oyster mushrooms outside on logs, then they created an indoor growing area where the climate could be managed for optimal growth. “Growing on logs is easier,” said Ernie, noting that nature takes care of the details.

For indoor cultivation, there is more involved in the set up. Buckets are cleaned and prepared. Mushroom mycelium are cloned. Straw is inoculated and watered. Then the right mix of temperature and moisture are maintained for a steady harvest. Cathy explained, “the benefit of growing indoors is that you can produce year round, it’s more reliable.”

Expanding the varieties, the Wheelers began growing three types of oyster mushrooms: tree oysters, pink oysters, and golden oysters. In addition the couple has experimented with shiitakes.

A small operation, it was important to the Wheelers to get the process right before scaling up. The farm produces about 20 pounds of oyster mushrooms per week, selling at local restaurants and farmers markets. They expect to add shiitakes to their offerings sometime this winter.

On Dec. 12, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. the farm will host its first “grow-your-own” event. Participants will learn about mushrooms, make their own indoor mushroom kit, and make a shiitake mushroom starter log. The workshop will be held at Raven Ridge Farm, 392 Jim McKinney Road in Pinnacle. For more details and to register call 336-325-2500 or email borrowedland@gmail.com.

Diane Blakemore may be reached at 336-368-2222 or on twitter @PilotReporter.

Ernie and Cathy Wheeler harvest oyster mushrooms from their outdoor site at Borrowed Land Farm.
http://www.pilotmountainnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/web1_IMG_1807.jpgErnie and Cathy Wheeler harvest oyster mushrooms from their outdoor site at Borrowed Land Farm.

Oyster mushrooms are propagated indoors at Borrowed Land Farm year round.
http://www.pilotmountainnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/web1_IMG_1799.jpgOyster mushrooms are propagated indoors at Borrowed Land Farm year round.

By Diane Blakemore

dblakemore@civitasmedia.com

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