Cover photo of Jane Maguire & John Quigley taken by Edible East End Q: Mushroom farming seems like a real niche. How did you get into it? Were you farmers before?
Jane: No, weren’t farmers before. I’ve been out here about 18 years, John’s been out here about 5. I was in retail, and I raised two kids out here. John moved out here from Philadelphia.
John: I’d been a trader on an exchange in Philly, and then I got into construction, but didn’t trust the economy. We met this fellow who told us all about what he thought he knew about growing mushrooms. If we had done what he said, we would have failed in the first week. It was a lot more involved and the learning curve was steep, but we figured it out with the help from engineers at Kennett Square. We took a chance and it was worth it.
Q: Jane, you said you’ve been here 18 years, so obviously the North Fork suits you. Did anything surprise you, John about the North Fork?
John: I used to tease Jane when she said she lived on Long Island. I asked her if she could reach out her window and borrow salt from her neighbor. I had no idea it was like this out here, I thought everyone on Long Island just lived on top of each other. Out here is different, I was pleasantly surprised.
Jane: It’s very New England here. We both grew up near Newport, RI, so this area feels right.
Q: How long have you been mushroom farming?
Jane: We started in October 2012, that’s when we were incorporated. Then Sandy came. We were in a large warehouse further down the road and had a lot of mushrooms up on logs and in bags ready to go. We had a trip scheduled to go to Ireland right when Sandy was going to hit, so we postponed and did what we could to save our mushrooms. We were able save some by driving through the storm to a warehouse in Calverton—that was a hairy ride—but everything we had on the shelves we lost because we lost power for a number of days.
When we came back from vacation we started fresh, and have been running hard since.
Q: Speaking of shelves, and of losing the crop by losing power, it makes mushroom farming sound very different than classical farming—doesn’t sound like fields or tractors or anything like that. What’s mushroom farming about?
John: It’s the farming of the future. It’s hydroponic, air controlled, and computerized. We can grow all year long, doesn’t matter if it’s raining or snowing. We’re able to control everything. It’s all about the temperature, humidity and carbon—carbon as CO2. Different varieties like different amounts. It’s the ultimate science project.
Mushrooms growing on a "log"
Q: Sounds wild. What do the mushrooms grow on?
Jane: We grow them on “logs” and in bags. The logs aren’t an ordinary tree limb; they are specially made using red oak sawdust and other natural ingredients, and the spores are injected into them. When the mushrooms are done growing on them, the logs make great compost.
Mushrooms growing in bags
Q: What kinds of mushrooms do you grow? Do you have a favorite?
John: We grow Shiitake, Blue Oyster, Yellow Oyster, and Maitake. Those varieties are the ones that do well in a hydroponic atmosphere. We started with Shiitake because that’s a very forgiving one to learn on. My favorite is Maitake – Hen of the Woods.
Q: How do you know when a mushroom is ready to pick?
John: Oyster mushrooms take 5 to 7 days and Shiitake take 7 to 10 days. Maitake take up to 49 days.
Mushroom caps have a certain shape and size. The bigger they get, they get more fibrous. Yummy mushrooms are young mushrooms.
Q: Where do you sell your mushrooms?
Jane: We sell to a lot of restaurants on the North Fork, from Wading River to Greenport, on Shelter Island, Sag Harbor, Bridgehampton, and East Hampton. They include Almond, Noah’s, Topping Rose House, Cooperage Inn, and many more.
We sell in our retail shop in Cutchogue Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10am -5 pm. We also sell to Country View Farm Stand and Breeze Hill Farms, at the Greenport Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, and the North Fork Table & Inn market on Fridays.
John: People driving by see the sign, and just stop in. Usually the wife comes in first and the husband trails behind, and looks like he’s being taken shopping. Then he sees the set up and gets really into it and realizes it’s a cool place to be.
Q: How much do you produce? Are crops measured in ounces, pounds or tons? And any plans to expand?
John: We measure in pounds. We can grow to order, but we don’t overgrow. We got in to dehydration because in February two years ago we had 2,100 pounds of Shiitake mushrooms! It’s hard to sell that many in winter with bad storms. Now we grow to order, and we’re growing to expand.
Q: Any good surprises about mushroom farming?
John: Mushroom consumers are great. They’re not stressed, and they’re very knowledgeable. We’re learning the culture and the holistic values of growing mushrooms. Mushrooms are loaded with antioxidants, cancer fighters.
We’re not mycologists, not yet at least! We get calls all the time from people, wondering if they can eat a mushroom they’ve found in their back yard. We always just say no. There a lot of questions on foraging as well, and we hear lots of great old school stories.
Q: Any big events coming up?
Jane: Yes, we’re hosting our first annual “The East End Mushroom Company Mushroom Cook-Off” on October 3 at Macari Vineyards. We expect up to 40 local and regional chefs and restaurant to compete. They can make whatever recipe they like, but it will include our mushrooms. 100% of the proceeds are for charity, and we’re donating to Maureen’s Haven and CAST.
John: We were raised to believe that if you don’t give back, you don’t deserve to take. We could never have opened a retail business without the community. We’ve been so embraced by the community, and we’re excited to give back. This is the inaugural event, and we’re excited to see everyone come together. It’ll be a great, fun event. More information can be found on our website.