Fungi to fork: Growing gourmet mushrooms from scratch

Nathanael Engen displays his stand. He will soon be debuting his variety of home-grown gourmet mushrooms at the Snohomish Farmers Market.

Nathanael Engen displays his stand. He will soon be debuting his variety of home-grown gourmet mushrooms at the Snohomish Farmers Market.
Kendall Blank

EVERETT — Coronavirus lockdowns gave many people time to pick up new hobbies and skills. Black Forest Mushrooms owner, Nathanael Engen, spent his time learning how to build a magical kingdom of gourmet mushrooms.
In early 2020, Engen repurposed his backyard and garage in Everett to test out an assortment of produce and fell in love with the strange qualities of mushrooms.
Engen has now created a business and will soon be selling his intriguing crop at the Snohomish Farmers Market.
“Mushrooms are absolutely fascinating, and I think what I love most about them is they are very mysterious,” said Engen. “There is so much unknown about them, they are very alien-like and a part of their own kingdom.”
Engen found mushrooms both fascinating and to have good business potential. They don’t take much space to grow, there is low supply and high demand and people seem to be excited about them.
Engen spent lots of time practicing cultivation and learning from experts such as Paul Stamets.
“We live in a beautiful age where you may not know anything about a topic, but in a matter of minutes you can have a rough understanding, and in a matter of several months you can have a very detailed understanding of how to do something,” said Engen.
He cultivates his mushrooms in a grow tent, which allows him to control the conditions. When he unzips the door to the tent, a warm blast of fog rolls out, the door opening further to reveal shelves lined with bags of substrate and spawn at different stages of the cultivation process.
Some bags have just been mixed, others are on the verge of fruiting. The contents of the grow tent fully showcases the stages of cultivation.
The mixed bags of spawn and substrate allow mycelium, or the root structure of the mushrooms, to fully grow. Once the mycelium is fully grown, Engen will slice the corner of the bag and the introduction of oxygen, light and humidity will trigger the fruiting mushroom to grow.
Once the bag is sliced it takes just a couple of days to a week for the mushroom to be ready for harvest. The entire process takes around a month.
After over two years of learning and growing, Black Forest Mushrooms is finally ready to head to farmers markets and start selling.
Black Forest Mushrooms will sell lion’s mane, shiitake, king oyster and blue oyster mushrooms at the market and on their website.
“Online orders will actually be hand-delivered so we will control the whole supply chain from cultivation all the way to door, a little ‘fungi to fork’ if you will,” said Engen.
Marian Maxwell, outreach chairperson and past president of the Puget Sound Mycological Society, says that when mushrooms are put in direct sunlight before consumption it will increase their levels of vitamin D.
“You can leave them in the sun before you eat them, and they increase the content of vitamin D,” said Maxwell. She usually leaves them in sunlight for 20-30 minutes.
A prep-cook at Wayward Vegan Cafe in Seattle, Nathan Reyla, said that his favorite way to cook mushrooms is to sauté them with a little bit of sage, thyme, and garlic.
“They are extremely versatile and can be used to bring a lot of earthy flavors into a dish,” said Reyla. “They are high in protein and are really good for you.”
Engen is passionate about sustainability. Hyper-local production means a low carbon footprint, lower costs and fresher mushrooms. He hopes to eventually power his entire business using solar panels on top of his growing facility.
Engen plans to start selling at the Snohomish Farmers Market in June. He does not have an exact start date yet because the growing process cannot be rushed, but he’ll be posting updates online.
“I think what is exciting for me is that I can sell gourmet mushrooms to my local community and help strengthen the local food supply chain and help people know where their food is coming from and how it is grown,” Engen said.