Fun Guys look to expand their reach into the mushroom market
EAU CLAIRE – Dustin Scholtz does not measure the size of his farm in acres. He measures it in square feet.
In partnership with his father, Steve Scholtz, the pair manages 2000 square feet for growing a variety of mushrooms at their operation Fun Guy Farm north of Eau Claire. In the 2 years since they joined forces, they have doubled their production and have plans for expanding the business in the future.
His father, Steve, had always been a hobbyist forger but he found their local farmers markets, particularly Eau Claire's Downtown Farmers Market had a surprising demand for their mushrooms.
Before partnering his father full-time in mushroom production, Dustin had been a sales rep for a local distribution company and then ran his own pest control service.
Opportunities and challenges
As his understanding of mushrooms grew his passion began to grow as well, and he realized there was an opportunity.
“The mushroom operation had been built to exclude challenges with weather,” he says. “We fruit our mushrooms indoors so we can provide the climate the mushrooms prefer.”
Weather, however, continued to present challenges and they utilized both air conditioning and heat to provide the temperature the mushrooms needed, as different varieties of mushrooms require different conditions.
Contamination has always been a challenge for mushroom growers and all surfaces need to be kept sterile. Fungi grow in the same environments that bacteria and molds prefer so it is a challenge to keep these contaminants at bay.
Through careful recordkeeping and monitoring, the father-son duo were able to determine the cause of contamination in some of their bags and address the issue.
Like other farmers, they also faced challenges in 2022 with supply chain issues.
“Since we were unable to get the exact unicorn bags needed to produce, we had to settle for bags with a smaller micron filter. That resulted in adverse effects and we needed to alter production methods to allow for this until we were again able to get the correct bags,” Dustin said.
Because of the supply chain issues for the bags and other supplies, The Scholtzes realized the need to increase monitoring of their inventory and to order supplies well in advance of when needed.
Like any other farming systems, mushroom growers also face challenges dealing with pests. Dustin says he found fungus gnats to be the biggest challenge in July and August.
“Since we do not use pesticides, I drew from my experience in pest control to find a solution,” he said.
Dustin experimented with biological control measures but did not see a level of success that warranted continuing with the experiment. Insect lights helped trap some of the pests as the devices were only meant to monitor, not necessarily control the entire infestation.
“We found a solution through altering the rotation of the blocks to get faster production so the gnats would not have the 20-plus days needed for them to cycle into adults,” he says.
As he and his father grew their business, they also found the need to upgrade equipment. Steve Scholtz has a long background in engineering and provided the expertise needed to upgrade the equipment to avoid breakdowns and allow for the increased production.
Time management has been a challenge as they grow their business. Through careful communication between father and son, they have figured out ways to be more efficient while continuing to reach more markets and expand their production.
With help of a $50,000 grant, the Scholtzes are working on making a significant change that has the potential to grow their business considerably in the future. The grant monies provided a means to acquire equipment needed to change how they sterilize their substrate. The substrate is two-parts sawdust and one-part soybean hulls, both by-products of area businesses.
Mixed with water, the products are then loaded into bags which are loaded into a steam sterilizer that typically takes 2 to 3 days to heat and cool.
Next, the sterilizer is unloaded and the bags are left to continuing cooling before being inoculated in front of a flow hood. During the inoculation process, they introduce mycelium grown on grain into the substrate. After the mycelium has been introduced, the bags are sealed, shaken and then placed into incubation.
Using the new method, the Scholtzes will be able to sterilize the substrate as it is mixing, and then introduce the mycelium right into the mixer. From there it will be automatically bagged, sealed and loaded right into incubation.
Dustin says the old way took over 60 hours to make approximately 100 bags. The new process cuts down the time element substantially.
Dustin is committed to growing consumer awareness on the many benefits that mushrooms have to offer, especially medicinal advantages. He says evidence exists that mushrooms are beneficial for their ability to modulate the immune system, help cancer patients, reduce stress and assist with sleep, improve cognitive functions, modulate blood sugar levels and improve oxygen through cells.
As he continues to study on-going research in this area, Dustin has learned that ultrasonic devices can be used to agitate mushrooms for a quicker extraction. Utilizing this technology with a freeze dryer would allow them to make a high-quality medicinal product at an accelerated rate compared to what is currently being used by many similar sized farms.
Dustin says he and his dad are also exploring the possibility of growing different varieties of mushrooms that may be sought after by consumers in the future. This foresight and attention to the latest research may serve them well as they strive to increase their markets.
Not only are Dustin and Steve interested in providing the best fresh products possible, Dustin is interested in the latest ways to recycle the spent block waste after the mushrooms have harvested. He explains that the block has utilized the water and will likely not produce any more fruiting bodies. However, the mycelium is very much alive and well. Spent blocks not only make fantastic fertilizer, they can help to clean the soil.
Dustin says the spent blocks can be used in gardens, assist with plant growth, break down contaminants, and are likely to produce “bonus mushrooms” as blocks are naturally rehydrated. As they grow their business, they are looking at the possibility that their spent blocks could be used to greatly assist their farming neighbors who spend a lot of money on fertilizer.
They are currently looking at ways to recycle the plastic unicorn bags. As theScholtzes continue to develop their new sterilization method, they are hopeful they will be able to replace the plastic unicorn bags with a compostable paper bag.
To view their mushrooms available for sale visit their website Fun Guy Farm.