Holy Shitake! Muddy Creek Farm Specializes in Mushrooms

MORGANTON, N.C. – When it comes to innovative ways to grow shitake mushrooms, Patrick Stephens is on the cutting edge.

Stephens has developed several techniques at Muddy Creek Farm that have significantly improved the quantity – and quality – of the fruit.

Yes, mushrooms are considered a fruit, and Muddy Creek Farm bears more than 600 pounds of it annually.

Stephens began growing shitakes in 2006 following a workshop at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro. After a few years of hands-on experience, Stephens devised a better way to produce this age-old crop that’s cultivated in oak logs.

Traditionally, growers stack the oak logs in the woods to mimic the natural conditions for growth. However, that only produces two harvests a year – when conditions are just right. Stephens, meanwhile, cultivates his mushrooms by hanging logs indoors in a darkened greenhouse. He calls this “vertical orientation.”

Not only does this technique allow him to produce up to 20 harvests per year, it also increases the quality of the mushrooms by getting them away from bugs and other creatures.

“But the best part is I get 100% harvest off a log,” says Stephens. “Because it is hanging up, mushrooms can grow all the way around the log and on each end. When you lay the logs, the mushrooms on the bottom come out deformed.”

A loyal following of customers has been cultivated as well, with Stephens estimating that 90 percent of his sales are mushrooms. The next biggest sellers are bell peppers and tomatoes.

The farm also grows Chinese greens, Swiss chard, arugula, asparagus, kale, tomatillos, spinach, summer squash, okra, eggplant, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, green beans and herbs.

“The next big thing we’re moving into is garlic,” Stephens says. “We’re doing a test run this year and expect to harvest 150 pounds of garlic. That is going to be our next large cash crop.”

The long-term plan is to continue expanding Muddy Creek Farm, hopefully to the point where Patrick and wife, Mary, can drop their secondary jobs and be full-time farmers.

“We like the satisfaction of seeing our efforts bear fruit,” he says. “I know it’s an old cliché, but it is satisfying when you go on the front porch and look out to the fields and see produce growing, and see berries ripening, or you go into the mushroom production area and see the mushrooms growing. I enjoy the growing side of it and the people side of it.”

Muddy Creek Farm produce can be purchased at area farmers markets, or by calling the farm at (828) 403-5569.