Mushrooms grow on a shelf inside a shipping container
Mo' Mushrooms grows its mushrooms in a shipping container locate near Ash Grove, they offer varieties like oyster and lion's mane. (Photo by Mo' Mushrooms)

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Stephen Harrell and Mike Haldeman met in Oregon where they both worked at a farmhouse brewery and became friends.

With backgrounds in food and agriculture, the guys would forage for mushrooms together. There was an abundance of mushrooms on the northwest coast. When Haldeman moved to Ash Grove, he missed the thriving mushroom scene.

“He was like, ‘I can’t get good mushrooms,’” said Harrell. “He did a couple experiments with mushroom growing techniques and thought it would be a good idea to fill in that space in the food culture. He called me in early 2020 and said, ‘Hey do you want to come start a mushroom farm in Missouri?’”

Harrell is from east Tennessee and that is where he was living at the time, but he moved to Missouri to start Mo’ Mushrooms, a year-round operation. Haldeman and Harrell sell about five varieties of oyster and lion’s mane mushrooms at Farmers Market of the Ozarks and other markets, and supply both Hy-Vee locations. A variety of restaurants also carry their products.

Timing is everything

Mo’ Mushrooms launched in a small building in Ash Grove in February 2020. The goal was to sell wholesale to restaurants and grocery stores, but within a month, the world was shut down. They had to focus on direct sales to consumers and set up that summer in the farmers market in Webb City.

“We had to recalculate everything and think on our feet,” Harrell said.

The Webb City farmers market allowed them to see what a farmers market booth looked like, but the mushrooms weren’t huge sellers.

Stephen Harrell, left, and Mike Haldeman stand inside their Mo' Mushrooms growing facility near Ash Grove, Missouri
Stephen Harrell, left, and Mike Haldeman are the men behind Mo' Mushrooms. The friends used to forage for mushrooms in Oregon. When Haldeman moved to Ash Grove, he missed the thriving mushroom scene. (Photo by Mo' Mushrooms)

“We did a lot of educating the consumer about ‘What is this food? How do I cook with this?’ They didn’t fly off the shelves,” Harrell said. “They would say, ‘These aren’t the same I see in the grocery store.’”

In 2021, they set up a booth at Farmers Market of the Ozarks and their product sold quickly.

A focus on oyster mushrooms

Golden oyster mushrooms grow at Mo' Mushrooms' growing facility near Ash Grove, Missouri
Mo' Mushrooms grows golden oyster mushrooms. They have a lighter taste, but very distinctive and slightly nutty. (Photo by Mo' Mushrooms)

As their business grew, they expanded to a larger facility on the outskirts of Ash Grove. They went from a 10-by-10 growing tent to a shipping container. It took the men about a week to outfit the container for optimal growing conditions. They have to be able to control the air, humidity and temperature range.

Haldeman and Harrell focus on oyster mushrooms at this point because those have a shorter growing period. From inoculation to fruit, it’s about three to four weeks.

“We focus on the short varieties that we can turn quickly in our space because we don’t have a ton of it,” Harrell said. “We need that real estate. Our goal is to get to growing shiitakes and chestnuts and other varieties. The incubation on shiitakes is 3-4 months, so significantly longer.”

They also grow blue oysters, which are very common and popular. They produce a black pearl oyster in the winter. Those have a thicker, meatier stalk, so closer to king oyster mushrooms. Thick stalks are sought after in the culinary world. Those are cool weather-loving.

Golden oysters are yellow-colored and have a lighter taste, but very distinctive and slightly nutty. They are beautiful. Italian oyster mushrooms, a variety of fast-fruiting mushrooms, are versatile with a mild umami flavor.

Lion's mane mushrooms offer health benefits

Lion’s mane is a good beginner mushroom that has a crab or lobster meat texture and shellfish flavor without being fishy. They are a good substitute for crab and people make lion’s mane cakes, like a fake crabcake.

“I can’t say enough good things about it from (a) culinary perspective and health benefits,” Harrell said.

Lion's mane mushrooms grow in Mo' Mushrooms' growing facility near Ash Grove, Missouri
Mo' Mushrooms grows lion's mane mushrooms, which are sought after for culinary uses and health benefits. (Photo by Mo' Mushrooms)

While lion’s mane has been used in traditional East Asian medicine for centuries, it has received a lot of coverage lately in modern media about potential health benefits and there are even lion’s mane supplements. According to WebMD, the mushrooms might improve nerve development and function, and “it also seems to protect the lining in the stomach.” When people are familiar with lion’s mane, they seek them out. But other consumers have lots of questions about these unique-looking organisms, said Harrell.

Regardless of the variety, Harrell says he tells consumers when they try any mushroom for the first time, cook them simply. A basic sauté of olive oil or butter, a little garlic, salt and cook over medium heat until they are done to your liking.

“That way you get an idea of the flavors and textures, and from there the sky is the limit,” he said.

Growing their customer base and demand for their product

Mushrooms grow in a shipping container
Mo' Mushrooms has expanded from a 10-by-10 growing tent to a shipping container near Ash Grove. (Photo by Mo' Mushrooms)

Mo’ Mushrooms continues to expand and is now in the City Market in Kansas City, Missouri, and is joining the Bentonville Farmers Market in Arkansas. They have employees who help at the stands but also take turns manning the one in Kansas City.

While wholesale is their focus, the farmers markets allow them to educate consumers which ultimately increases demand for their product.

Haldeman and Harrell sell to restaurants such as Retro Metro, Everyday Thai, The Order, Craft Sushi, Bruno’s, Millsap Farms, Swallowtail Farm to Table food truck and more. Restaurants allow people who are maybe hesitant to buy the mushrooms at farmers markets, because they are not confident in their cooking skills, to try them in a culinary setting. Then the consumer comes back and buys the mushroom.

Their goal is to grow market share and continue to learn from these fungi.

“Growing mushrooms as a one-off is not terribly hard,” Harrell said. “Figuring out how to harvest 200 pounds on Tuesday and another 200 pounds on Thursday is where the rubber meets the road. It is figuring out how to do it on a commercial scale and timing is everything. These organisms don’t communicate with words or listen if you have a bunch of orders. We brought our experience to the table, but it has been an ongoing learning experience.”

Find them: Mushrooms from Mo’ Mushrooms are available at Farmers Market of the Ozarks or both Hy-Vee locations. Follow them on Facebook for more information.

Juliana Goodwin

Juliana Goodwin is a freelance journalist with experience covering business, travel and tourism, health, food and history. She is a former Food and Travel Columnist for the Springfield News-Leader, a former business reporter for The Joplin Globe, and has written for USA Today and Arkansas Living Magazine, among others. More by Juliana Goodwin