A Dream Coming True
Russell Lawson and Patchwork Farms
In all your conversations with a farmer, how often does the term “clean room” come up? Or inoculation? How about spawn? Farmer Russell Lawson (of Patchwork Farms here on Bainbridge Island) recently gave a tour of his new mushroom cultivation facility and it is a far cry from the soil and seeds of his more traditional farm work.
It starts in a clean room. Positive pressure built up by pumping clean air into a sealed room keeps contaminants out, allowing Mr. Lawson a sterile environment in which to begin. Bags of alder sawdust (and a few secret ingredients) are sterilized, then inoculated with the specific type of mushroom. After a day or two in the clean room, the inoculated bags move into a humidity and temperature controlled dark room where they hang out for 2 - 8 weeks, depending on the type. Once the bags are fully “colonized”, they are moved to a grow room where they are exposed to just the right spectrum of light to encourage fruiting. 2 weeks later: mushrooms.
King Oysters. Lion’s Mane. Italian Oysters. Shiitake.
2019 marks a new chapter for him as a farmer and as a fungi culturalist. “I’ve been doing it as a hobby for 6 years, small production for 1 year, and now I’m ready to roll,” says Mr. Lawson. “It’s lab work. Totally different than field work, covering myself with dirt… but it’s second nature now.”
The mushroom farm, with its clean room and its grow lights, is in a converted garage near Hidden Cove. Mr. Lawson who has fields in several locations on the island, designed, engineered and built all of the facilities himself. Just steps outside the door, however, he has greenhouses, fields and what will be rows of tomatoes, cucumbers and more familiar crops. As well as a cheerful gaggle of chickens.
“Each bag of inoculated sawdust gets 2 to 3 good harvests of mushrooms before its spent. The used sawdust, full of mycelium, is given to the chickens who work it into the soil. This, plus chicken manure, is building the soil in the field, and getting it ready for crops. It all stays right here, and there isn’t really any waste.”
Patchwork Farms’ mushrooms are currently being sold to Hitchcock, but will soon be available at Bay Hay and Feed, the Bainbridge Farmers’ Market, and through the Butler Green CSA. Given his estimate of a 40 pound harvest of mushrooms (or more!) a week, there should be enough to go around.
“Any success I’ve had I owe to Brian MacWhorter of Butler Green and so many other people along the way. That combined with the opportunities Friends of the Farms and Mike McDevitt have given me… it’s making the dream come true.”