Minot brothers find success in mushroom farming
MINOT, N.D. (AP) - Jeff and Dan Coggins were looking for a niche when they decided to go into mushroom farming.
It took a little while for the farmers market crowd to embrace this new commodity, but once they did, business mushroomed for the Coggins brothers.
"Our first year, everybody has a line outside their booth; we didn't have a line. Now we have a line," Jeff Coggins said.
This is the second year of harvesting for Jeff and Dan Coggins, who established their operation in the former Maxbass school. They purchased the school before the 2011 flood, and when floodwaters forced them from their Minot home, they moved into the school.
Dan Coggins said the school was in rough shape when they acquired it, but they were able to make needed improvements themselves. They initially provided hunting guide services out of the building. They also invested into mushroom-growing equipment a little at a time to ease the costs of eventually getting into the mushroom business.
"We researched it about nine years," Dan Coggins said. "Come to find out the building is perfect for growing mushrooms. It's brick and cement."
Jeff Coggins, a former tennis pro with the City of Minot, had moved for a time to Vermont, where he came to know a mushroom grower and learned a lot about what growing the plants entails. He brought that knowledge back to North Dakota when he returned.
"It's something nobody else does in the state. We didn't want to copy anybody," he said.
"We knew the demand would be there," Dan Coggins added. "People love mushrooms."
Growing mushrooms isn't easy so the Coggins brothers were somewhat surprised at how well things went during their first year. But they add they went into the operation having done their homework well.
"It's tough. You need a lot of room and a lot of humidity to do any kind of production. We do up to 80 pounds a week sometimes," Dan Coggins said.
Temperature, humidity, light and air flow all need to be controlled to be successful, Jeff Coggins said.
"It sounds easy but it's a lot of work," he said.
They grow five varieties of oyster mushrooms, a gourmet mushroom commonly used in restaurants. Their varieties come in a range of light to dark, with the flavor becoming more intense as the color darkens.
They have had buying interest from restaurants and groceries but so far have focused on farmers markets, the Minot Daily News reported. Using just 1,000 square feet in the 25,000-square-foot school building, they have room for future expansion should they decide to branch out their sales.
The mushrooms are grown year-round. During the offseason for farmers markets, the Coggins brothers sell to private customers and use their commercial dehydrator to turn their crop into dried mushrooms. They process their crop into dried or powdered mushrooms throughout the year as they refuse to bring fresh mushrooms to market if they are more than two days old.
Mushrooms are among the most nutritious product sold at farmers markets, Jeff Coggins said. High in vitamin D, they also are a source of more than a dozen other vitamins and minerals, including folic acid. Vegan customers like mushrooms as a meat substitute, and some buyers have medicinal reasons to consume mushrooms, which research has shown to support the immune system.
Jeff and Dan Coggins said they consume plenty of mushrooms themselves. They provide a handout of recipes for buyers interested in trying something new. They also sell sun-dried tomatoes.