Mushrooms from the Farm to the Restaurant – “Mushroom Gary” Part Two
- Gary Crouch, co-owner of Mountain Meadow Mushrooms in Escondido, CA gave a tour of the farm to show the beginning of making soil, mushroom growth, harvesting, and off to the cooling zone to be packed for fresh delivery to the Souplantation restaurants.
Gary and his dad bought the farm in 1982. At the time, they had six workers and would harvest 200 pounds a week. Now, with 100 workers, they harvest 120,000 pounds a week! Can you even imagine that many mushrooms? White Button, Almond Tops, Portobello, Crimini, Oysters, Shiitake, and Enoki mushrooms are grown in the buildings.
One of the unique features of Mountain Meadow, aside being 33 family-owned years, is that they use byproducts that are developed here in San Diego County. “We use those byproducts, create a product, and then grow our mushrooms, sterilize it, and put it out on the ground,” says Gary.
For more information on the process of compost, click here for Part One of “Mushroom Gary.”
About 20 years ago, it was the last time they used chicken litter. “One of the reasons we’re the only one left in Southern California is because we’re really friendly to our neighbors,” he says. And by being a friendly neighbor they made a choice to not use chicken litter due to the smell. He could have used chicken litter where it is less expensive, but, it is not neighbor-friendly. In place, he uses cotton seed meal, which is almost 3 times the cost!
“The unique thing about this farm is that there are no chemicals in process of making mushrooms and that it never shuts off. Here at the mushroom farm it is a manufacturing plant. It’s a whole different process. Since 1982, we have picked, packed, and shipped mushrooms every single day. Other people can take days off, but we can’t. If you don’t pick them right away, they open up and it’s a room full of umbrellas,” he says. A similar style would be a dairy farm. The cows have to be milked every day.
In the 27 rooms where the mushrooms grow, different rooms need to be picked at its peak. The art of picking mushrooms hasn’t changed. Mushroom harvesting is a delicate and fast process. For every sq. foot in a room, 7 or 8 pounds is produced. Some of the rooms are 6,000 sq. feet, making it 40,000+ pounds for every room! Harvesters pick from 7,000 pounds to 30,000 pounds.
In the last ten years, they’re more efficient in equipment, manpower, labor, and energy. The 100 workers consist of making compost, maintenance, harvesters, watering men, and various projects. There are 15 workers who have been there since day one managing the work crews.
These delicious ready to eat mushrooms are put into bins and transported into the pre-cooler building to make the mushrooms last longer and better. Once there, they are sorted, packed, and ready to go to stores and restaurants.
“We’ve always been able to tell you where your stuff comes from. We can tell you what picker picked it, what room it came out of, and when it came out,” he says about each mushroom box. In ten years, he wants to see more mechanization. “We are working on a machine that would reach in and it’ll pick up the mushroom and twist it and reach over and cut it, and drop it in the box,” he says.
Food safety is important and they participate in the MGAP, an industry-wide food safety standards for fresh mushroom growing, harvesting, and shipping. They are also inspected by the Department of the Army for example, where they will take mushrooms and analyze them. They send swabs to different laboratories to test for listeria among others from the packing room.
“Mushrooms take on the flavor with whatever you cook it with. Blending mushrooms with meat, so you can get a hamburger that has less fat, less sodium, and more nutrients. They’re good for you.” he says.
“One of the unique things with Souplantation is the mushrooms that they buy from us, they get them every day. So, they are picked fresh and taken to the kitchens (Central Kitchens). If you go to a grocery store, the mushrooms taste completely different cause they can be anywhere from 4-6 days old or older. So, they just don’t have that same freshness.”
The next time you walk down the fresh salad bar, pile your salad plate with fresh mushrooms or sink it in the numerous delectable choices of soup. Cream of mushroom soup is typically offered the first week of the month. Mm mm!
Check out your local Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes to see where your mushrooms are from!
About Mountain Meadow Mushrooms
Our company was established in 1952 and had been responsible for providing outstanding service and mushrooms ever since. Our regular customers particularly value price, quality and service. Our business is located at 26948 North Broadway, Escondido, CA.