Producer of the Week: DAJ Mushrooms

Just-harvested mushrooms from DAJ Mushrooms. Photo courtesy of Copper Lantern Pictures.

Just-harvested mushrooms from DAJ Mushrooms. Photo courtesy of Copper Lantern Pictures.

If you want to learn how to grow mushrooms, you need to ask an Accounting major. More specifically, you need to ask John Davidson, the owner of DAJ Mushrooms. John graduated from Widener University in 1991 with a degree in Accounting. Soon after, he started to grow shiitake mushrooms and put his Accounting degree to work as a business owner.

John has been growing mushrooms for over 20 years. “All my adult life,” he said. It’s also a practice that began when he was 13-years-old. “At that time, my after-school job was working for my cousin on a mushroom farm,” John explained.

Today, on his own mushroom farm in Avondale, Pa., John produces 55,000 pounds of cremini mushrooms, 45,000 pounds of portobello mushrooms, and 1,000 pounds of shiitake, oyster, and maitake mushrooms each week.

In order to grow this many mushrooms, John uses a nutrient-rich compost blend that provides a fertile environment for their growth. “Everyone thinks that mushrooms are grown in horse manure,” John shared. That’s a common misconception.

“Our compost is 95 percent made up of a mix of wheat, straw, and hay. After that, 3 percent is manure, and the rest is a blend of cottonseed hulls and cocoa bean shells,” John stated. “Also, we do not apply any chemicals to our mushrooms. No fungicides or pesticides.”

In many ways, mushroom growing is environmentally friendly. “We use all the waste from other types of farming. We use straw from the racetrack, as well as the cottonseed hulls and cocoa bean shells to create a really enriched soil that is high in nutrients and great for gardens,” John said.

At DAJ Mushrooms, everything is grown inside in a controlled environment. In the summer, John brings the temperature down to 55 degrees. Mushrooms thrive in this setting. As John explained, mushrooms are not grown from seed. They are a fungus that starts and colonizes with no root system to start from.

There is plenty to learn about mushroom growing, and John enjoys educating the public on the process. “What I like most about being at the market is talking to people about mushrooms,” John said. “They always enjoy learning about the growing process. Once I tell them, I like seeing their reactions.”

These days, John’s nephew works the UM Farmers Market booth for DAJ Mushrooms as John tends to the business. At the market, patrons keep him busy requesting cremini mushrooms, mostly. John likes to encourage people though to try the mushroom mixes and get introduced to new varieties they haven’t tried in the past.

When patrons do buy their mushrooms at DAJ’s booth, John offered a few tips on keeping them fresh. “Never store mushrooms in a sealed plastic container,” he said. “Once moisture gets on them, they go bad quickly. Instead, place them in a brown paper bag in the refrigerator or in a container that can breathe.”

The mushrooms that John sends to the UM Farmers Market are picked fresh that morning. The average shelf life of a mushroom is a week to 10 days. Buying them at the market ensures that they’ve been harvested that very morning for a deliciously fresh flavor. John also advises when you cook mushrooms, don’t submerge them in liquid. They will absorb it, which will compromise the quality of the dish.

With these tips in mind for storing and cooking mushrooms, be sure to visit DAJ Mushrooms this week – and every week – for the finest mushrooms any Accounting major can grow!

PRODUCER’S SPECIAL: Stop by the market booth this Saturday for the “Sauté Special.” It’s a good sampler mix of cremini (baby bella), shiitake and oyster mushrooms. It normally sells for $9, but this week, it will be on sale for $7.

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