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US (MO): Erbe Farms is growing and selling some of your favorite fungi

Traditional farms usually don't produce the ingredient Ryan and Amber Erbe – co-owners of Erbe Farms – have become known for at the Riverwalk Market in St. Charles. The couple grows, harvests, and sells their own mushrooms, and the variety they've managed to turn out is astounding, especially considering the fact that some mushrooms – like shiitakes – take months to incubate and grow.

The Erbes first started out using a mushroom-growing kit. As they learned more about the process, they began creating their own substrates, or growing mediums, and cultivating new varieties of mushrooms. "We had always talked about building an urban farm and bringing our produce to local markets," Ryan Erbe says. "Last year, we decided to really go for it – we put a lot into building out our lab so we could grow on a larger scale." The market is just a few blocks away from the lab, so setting up shop at the scenic spot near the river just made sense.

To grow the mushrooms, the Erbes use all organic materials, and the whole process takes place indoors. "We start in the lab with mycelium samples we purchased from other growers and used to build up our liquid culture library," Ryan Erbe explains. "We then use the cultures to inoculate sterilized grain and allow it to colonize. Once the grain is ready, we transfer it to 10-pound substrate bags and allow them to incubate for whatever period of time – in whatever environmental conditions – that that particular species requires to fruit." Some people do this by laying out the mushroom spawn on a tray, growing their mushrooms on a wall or column, or even by drilling holes in a log and sealing up the spawn inside. The Erbes transfer their incubated bags of substrate to a grow room, "let them breathe," and watch them start to grow mushrooms.

The staple fungi the Erbes sell at the market include lion's mane, oyster, black pearl, king, and pioppino mushrooms – but they rotate in chestnut, shiitake, hen of the woods, enoki, and others. "We've started growing some of the medicinal species like turkey tail, reishi, and cordyceps as well," Ryan Erbe notes. "We're hoping to have them ready later this fall."


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