Kitchen Pride Mushrooms – Texas Grown, Texas Proud

  • January 31, 2018

Cremini mushrooms are sometimes marketed as baby bellas; if thinned and allowed to grow larger they become full size portabellas.

by Patty Leander

At our monthly meeting in January, Pat Mokry mentioned an interesting visit she made to the Kitchen Pride Mushroom Farm in Gonzales. Perhaps this will be a future tour opportunity for the Travis County Master Gardeners, and if you have never been I highly recommend it. Kitchen Pride is a successful, family-owned company, firmly rooted in Gonzales since 1988. A few years ago, while working on an article for Texas Gardener magazine, I had the fortune of meeting the founder of Kitchen Pride, Darrell McLain. He took me and Bruce on a guided tour of the facility and let us take several photos. And as Pat said, it is a fascinating place!

Darrell McLain founded Kitchen Pride in 1988.

Though not a true plant, mushrooms are classified as a vegetable and considered an agricultural product by the Texas Department of Agriculture. Since mushrooms have no chlorophyll and cannot produce energy from the sun, they must live off of other plants and plant material. Composted organic matter is the perfect medium. Kitchen Pride Mushroom Farms grows millions (over 250,000,000 annually) of amazing mushrooms (button, cremini, oyster, portabella and shiitake) and one of the byproducts of production is the growing medium, a compost mixture referred to as spent mushroom substrate (SMS). Mushroom production is a precise science utilizing a combination of technology and agriculture, but here, in a nutshell, is a simplified narrative: The process at Kitchen Pride begins by making compost on site from a specific formula comprised of wheat straw, cotton burrs, cottonseed meal, poultry litter, brewers grain and gypsum. After several days of wetting, turning and aerating to initiate the composting process, the mixture is extruded into long loaves called ricks.

The ricks are moved to a special bunker with an aerated floor, which is controlled by computers that monitor the oxygen level and temperature. Water is added as necessary to maintain favorable conditions. After two weeks of further processing, the ricks are moved indoors to specially designed temperature-controlled rooms where they are pasteurized to kill harmful pathogens. The compost is then inoculated with the Agiricus bisporus culture and transported on long aluminum shelves to a growing room where air temperature and moisture are carefully monitored by both computers and trained employees to maintain ideal conditions for growth.

Kitchen Pride employees harvest mushrooms in the cool, dark growing rooms.

The mushroom culture soon begins to spread into a thread-like matrix throughout the compost. Approximately 13 days after inoculation a 2” layer of peat moss is spread over the surface, and about two weeks later, skilled employees begin to harvest small white button mushrooms, one by one, using a small, sharp knife. After this first harvest, the growing medium is then watered and the air temperature and humidity are adjusted to encourage a second bloom which comes about a week later, followed by a third bloom. The harvest at each subsequent bloom is diminished, and after the third bloom, the room is cleaned and steam pasteurized and ready to accept a fresh batch of inoculated compost. Now you understand why the leftover growing medium is referred to as spent mushroom substrate.

The SMS is sold to individuals and landscape companies as a soil amendment. Because it can sometimes have a high concentration of soluble salts, it should not be used alone, but rather mixed into existing soil or used as a topdressing. If you get a load of SMS that has a strong ammonia smell it is best to let it sit and cure for a few months, or add it to the compost pile before using it in a vegetable garden. Many people think of mushroom compost as some magical, nutrient-rich elixir for plants, but like other types of compost, it is more valuable as a source of organic matter to improve structure and stimulate microbial activity rather than a nutrient source for plants.

Wheat straw is moistened and mixed with cottonseed meal and other ingredients to initiate composting; frequent turning accelerates the process portabellas.

Kitchen Pride mushrooms are grown 365 days a year and are always in season. They are low in fat and a good source of potassium, vitamin K and B vitamins. They have small amounts of vitamin D, but recent research shows that when exposed to sunlight their vitamin D content goes up significantly — that’s why I always set my mushrooms outside in the sun before I eat them. Kitchen Pride mushrooms can be found at major grocery chains and most Farmers Markets throughout Central Texas.  – photos by Patty and Bruce Leander

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