Producer Spotlight: Southern Mushrooms
October 17, 2022
Nathan Long is the proprietor of Southern Mushrooms in Mansfield, Missouri. Nathan’s story is interesting because he did not start growing mushrooms to fulfill some life-long yearning for the pastoral farming life. He started growing mushrooms so that his cousin (?) could have a business and make some money. And then it became “just kinda interesting” because of the science, and gratifying in feeding people things that are good for them. So, now Nathan grows mushrooms.
The research on the health benefits of mushrooms is extensive. These are superfoods that provide a source for important trace minerals like selenium and potassium. They help with immune function, brain health, and weight loss when used to substitute for fatty meats. Nathan currently grows five varieties: Shiitake, Blue Oyster, King Oyster, Lion’s Mane and Pioppini.
Many mushroom varieties are known to assist in heart health because they contain beta-glucans that help lower the bad cholesterol in the bloodstream, and several studies that show these compounds also help regulate blood sugars in the digestion process. Additionally, mushrooms help with a variety of immune system functions. For instance, Shiitake mushrooms are effective for reducing inflammation and strengthening white blood cell production and protecting against cell damage. Shiitake have also been studied for their cancer fighting qualities, for inhibiting tumor growth.
Oyster varieties have been used to help with respiratory infections and have high amounts of amino acids that stay present even after cooking, so they make a great meat substitute. Lion’s Mane have the fourth most antioxidant activity and are beneficial for fighting inflammation, such as arthritis; but they are most widely known for their ability to support cognitive functions (alertness and protection against dementia and other degenerative conditions). There have also been some studies that show Lion’s Mane is effective in assisting with anxiety and depression.
Pioppini mushrooms are most widely used in the culinary world. They have the antioxidant and digestive regulating qualities of other mushrooms, and there have been a few studies that show this variety may be useful in the prevention of osteoporosis and cancer related inflammation. They have also been used in a ground or powdered form to substitute for wheat flour, in small amounts, during cooking. This may not be an effective substitute for large applications, like bread, but it is successful for making sauces.
Nathan enjoys feeding people and being part of the local food network. He would also like to grow the business to include supplements. Ideally, he would like to grow for makers of supplements, but he spoke about that being an incredible number of regulations. In the process, he’s learned a lot reading up on the various markets for growing nutritive mushrooms and their benefits. He does want to continue feeding people, too, so don’t worry, there will still be a local source for your weekly orders (wink).
He showed Willow, my daughter, and I around his little shop where he makes the magic happen. Willow does not like mushrooms, but it was hard not to be intrigued by the process of growing food in a science lab. It was pretty wild to see the beginnings of the mushrooms as just wisps of mycelium in a growing solution. After that, he uses the solution to inoculate a growing substrate and tucks the “blocks” into the shelves of his growing facility. This mimics the natural growing conditions for mushrooms in the wild, but controls the hazards that would damage the fruit. Thirty to 60 days later, bam, food. Our trip to Southern Mushrooms was a 2’fer - an interview and educational experience, and ended up counting for science class that day.
I have really enjoyed getting a variety of local mushrooms and adding them to my routine diet. They work great as a substitute for meat and as a tasty addition to just about every dish. If you haven’t already, you should run some culinary experiments of your own and order some!