Fletcher Street, director of sales and marketing for Olympia, WA-based Ostrom Mushroom Farms, commonly referred to as Ostrom’s, said that there is always market stress on mushroom availability during the holidays. She pointed out that the closing of California Mushroom Farm in Ventura, CA, in September, is leaving a void of about 20 million pounds of mushrooms a year, which could be most strongly felt during the holidays.
“The shortage could be felt most in the west, but Premier Mushrooms, another Northern California producer, is coming on with an expansion,” said Street. “Even so, with overhead higher than ever, demand stronger and less product on the market, prices will definitely be up.”
Street’s current second consecutive term as chair of the Mushroom Council, will end in January. She has also served in other positions on the Mushroom Council in the past.
She said that the company has been fortunate obtaining growing medium from the wheat farming industry.
“That industry in our region has not had weather-related issues, and so our medium has stayed pretty level,” she said.
Ostrom’s is always on top of its food-safety and traceability initiatives. Street said that is basically all about documentation.
“We have an in-house full-time food-safety manager,” she explained. “PTI [Produce Traceability Initiative] is another major project. On the up-side for mushrooms, the Council has been doing the marketing aspect, and the result is that the process is much more mainstreamed than ever before.”
As a fairly small farm, Ostrom’s does not have the capability to do processing in-house. But it has been working with an individual quick frozen, or IQF processor. The frozen product is then sold to further processors.
“We’re also working on an effort to become a U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved supplier for IQF diced mushrooms for the commodity buy that it does,” Street explained. “That business may not come to us directly, but rather indirectly to the IQF firms we supply. This also plays into our goal of getting more mushrooms into school systems.”
Ostrom’s has also met with the Washington State Department of Corrections, which makes some food products that go to schools in the state. The Department approached Ostrom’s about how mushrooms could help the menu profile.
“They already do a taco blend with mushrooms, and we’re now looking at additional possibilities,” said Street.
The company continues to promote its vitamin D enhanced mushroom product line, and has enhanced more products in recent times.
“Our Crimini whole eight-ounce packs and our Portabella caps and Portabella sliced products are now vitamin D enhanced,” she said. “We are also very proud of our totally recyclable mushroom till. Our footprint on this has shrunk to almost totally locally sourced packaging materials. Washingtonians are highly sustainable-minded, and whatever we can do to reduce our carbon footprint, we do.”
Street is really hyped up on the Mushroom Council’s “Swap It or Top It” program, and sees it as tremendously successful.
“We are just starting to get items that fall under these guidelines into local school systems,” she said. “It’s amazing how many schools, especially in Washington state, are still scratch cooking, and others are getting back to scratch cooking.
“There is not reluctance based on money — it’s about portion sizes — and kids aren’t getting enough food in school to satisfy their hunger. This is imperative to a successful nutritional program. The ability to maintain proper portion size is a huge selling point because mushrooms are not as expensive as beef, poultry or other proteins.”
In tune with Ostrom’s commitment to the local community, it also focuses on other elements, such as supporting local sports teams. And it is the recipient of the Washington Family Owned Business Awards.
“We’re local, we’re family owned and we’re trying to bring awareness to all the new folks who have moved to Washington from other states,” said Street. “We have a tremendously rapid growth rate in technology and other industries, and the demand for workers is higher than ever.
“Even through business is tough from many standpoints today, we feel that mushrooms are coming into their own as an important part of nutrition,” she continued. “The mushroom industry is fully sustainable — we reuse water as an example — and consumers like that. I think the mushroom industry will be teaching the world how to grow mushrooms in the future: if you can find something to compost, you can grow mushrooms.”