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Hawk Meadow Farm Mushrooms: Sitting Down With Anne & Steve Sierigk

“Fungi constitute the most poorly understood and underappreciated kingdom of life on Earth.” — Michael Pollan


 https://www.hawkmeadowfarm.com/

Foraging mushrooms was an activity with my grandmother, Marjorie; recently, some referred to her as a master forager. She had the intuition to know which mushrooms were edible for humans and which to avoid. I was a bit young to remember the species, but I remember the forest walks along “The Beaver Pond” in Norfolk, Connecticut - picking what I think were Morels, Chicken of the Woods, and Lobster mushrooms. I remember not to touch Fly Agaric, the bright red buttons with whitish spots. The properties may be fairy-like, but they can make you severely ill or worse. 


Shiitake

Much later in life, on a road trip to Mendocino County, California, we stumbled onto a farmers market where foragers sold fresh Morels on Saturdays. In the early 2000s certain counties in Northern California were allowed permission to forage on county and state park lands. If you were camping in the parks, you might bump into a chef or forager from a local Michelin-star restaurant seeking something special for their menu that weekend. I never learned mushroom identification until later in life. I picked up books to glean information on the shiitakes (shi-TAH-kit - American) sold in Japan Town at our local farmer’s market. One might wonder how those gorgeous fungi are grown and who might be growing them.


https://www.hawkmeadowfarm.com/

Hawk Meadow Farm

Anne and Steve Sierigk are artists, woodland farmers, and perpetual students of shiitake mushroom production. When they founded Hawk Meadow Farm on the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York, they started with inspiration for principles of permaculture and macrobiotics by growing secondary agricultural products and sharing them with the community through the Ithaca Farmer’s Market.  The Sierigk’s created an environment where the model was intentionally developed for woodland gardening. 


An advertisement in Mother Earth Magazine sparked their interest in learning to grow Shiitake mushrooms and initially selling them in a basket adjacent to their environmental art company, Acorn Designs. The early 2000s opened opportunities to learn more about outdoor shiitake mushroom farming and aspects of Japanese agriculture. Anne and Steve intentionally alter their woodlands, removing invasive species while seeking ecological balance and re-introducing the missing components necessary for a well-rounded ecosystem.  


The Sierigk’s took this task seriously because they are land stewards who carefully manage the watershed, native ecology, and biodynamic influence when caring for the network they have built on their land. They focus on keeping their scale balanced with the growth they have built, very similar to the principles of Shumei Agriculture. Its values and ethics are founded on the premise of the Mokichi Okada naturalist model. Although not Shumei certified, their agricultural practices align with Japanese farming techniques known as “food so good it touches our souls.”


Shiitake Ecosystem


Presently, Shiitake mushrooms are the second most widely produced mushroom species in the world (Chang and Miles, 2004). Shiitake cultivation in the United States was not allowed until a restriction on the importation of the mushroom mycelium was lifted in 1971 (Leatham, 1982; San Antonio, 1981).  Log-based mushroom production is compatible with land management goals and is a solid foundation for Permaculture.  Some scientists like Nelson Menolli, Jr have confirmed there are nine recognized species in the world. Domestically, some shiitake producers only grow and sell warm-weather shiitakes curated in milder months, with a much higher yield on logs in an outdoor ecosystem. Anne and Steve grow many varieties, one being the “Donko” or cold weather mushroom, because it adapts well to their environment and flavor profiles are dense than warm weather varieties. 


Hawk Meadow Farm teamed up with Ken Mudge from Cornell University in 2010; Anne and Steve participated in a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Grant (SARE) from the University of Vermont. Steve remembers assisting in writing and implementing the grant and white paper as they grew their craft of feeding mycelium with the sweet sap from downed treetops on site to a larger business. With the help of Ken at Cornell and the University of Vermont, they ran their Proof of Concept and reported the outcomes to be favorable for their farm. 


The team tested and proved time studies, economics, and the viability of growing various strains of shiitake on their farm outdoors. In turn, they received a lot of positive interest and potential collaboration from Vermont growers.  That same year, the Sierigk’s experienced a tornado that tore down acres of deciduous treetops in their ecosystem, and they put these torn-up trees to use by implementing a 1,000-year-old Japanese shiitake mushroom growing technique.  The model is based on Sweet Sap Forest Grown Cultivation, where the mycelium is inoculated with sawdust and plugged into these 3”- 4” in diameter logs; usually, the species are Oak, Maple, Hickory, or Sweet Birch.  


https://www.hawkmeadowfarm.com/

Terroir and Log Inoculation

Shiitake logs should be inoculated within ten to twenty days of cutting, which disallows for competing fungi to take hold of the substrate. The components of terroir are climate, topography, soil, and the surrounding flora of the environment. The sweet sap of and the anatomy of a log are key to the terroir of forest-grown shiitake fungi at Hawk Meadow Farm. The sapwood layer is just under the bark, where shiitake yields nutrients to grow and develop flavor profiles.  For example, the taste of birch sugars or hickory shines through the shiitake and are flavor-forward for chefs who desire to create unique dishes like aged duck with shiitake and double-fermented dark soy glaze.


Initially, Anne and Steve harvested the tops of their trees to grow Shiitake. Drilling ¼” holes in a 36”-42” long hardwood treetop, filling those carefully drilled holes with sawdust or plug spawn, and placing them in a shady space until they are ready to fruit. I learned that, on average, a hardwood mushroom log of 3”-4” in diameter, an inoculated log can produce up to two years. Log yields have many variables, including the wood species and the second environmental conditions. 


The colder the climate, the harder the shiitake has to work to fruit, and its terroir becomes more delightful—the deeper the layer of sap, the heartier the shiitake and flavor profile from that species.  For example, inoculating a maple tree brings out the profile of sweet sap from sugar maples or earthy tones from that of Hickory. The opportunities are endless for Anne and Steve on their farm. Each year, they partner with loggers, diverting tree-top woody mass from landfills and re-purposing Ironwood, Musclewood, Oaks, Hickories, and Maples. When first approached, the loggers in the local area were questioning why a producer would want to buy fresh treetops each year.  But, it became clear once they understood the mushroom market and how delicious those shiitakes tasted from Hawk Meadow Farm. Those loggers support a good business producing a super product for the local economy. 



https://www.hawkmeadowfarm.com/


https://www.hawkmeadowfarm.com/

The Terroir of Hawk Meadows Forest-Grown Log Cultivation

The components of terroir are climate, topography, soil, and the surrounding flora of the environment. The sweet sap of and the anatomy of a log are key to the terroir of forest-grown shiitake fungi at Hawk Meadow Farm. The sapwood layer is Just under the bark, where shiitake yields nutrients to grow and develop flavor profiles.  For example, the taste of birch sugars or hickory shines through the shiitake and are flavor-forward for chefs who desire to create unique dishes like aged duck with shiitake and double-fermented dark soy glaze.


https://www.hawkmeadowfarm.com/

The opportunities are endless for Anne and Steve on their outdoor shiitake farm. Each year, they partner with loggers, diverting that tree-top woody mass from landfills re-purposing the likes of Ironwood, Musclewood, Oaks, Hickories, and Maples. They cut the logs into 42” segments and drill holes into the sap layer around the log in an optimal formation that will yield healthy and tasty shiitake for their customers.


Hawk Meadow Farm

Agritourism On Hawk Meadow Farm 

Anne and Steve offer classes and workshops at their Trumansburg, New York, farm. They also run farm tours and teach people the practice of “mushroom of the shii tree,” better known as shiitake farming. Be sure to take the walking tour with them and their subject matter experts; call or email to inquire about times and days available. They are proud of the farm and life they built and share it with all who are interested. 


https://www.hawkmeadowfarm.com/









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