MONTVALE, Va. (WFXR) — Traditionally, Virginia has not been known as a major producer of mushrooms. Ten years ago there were almost no mushroom farms in the commonwealth, but that is changing. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are now dozens of mushroom farming operations in Virginia.

One of them is Wingstem Farms in Montvale. The farm is owned by the husband and wife team of Lexi Rojahn and Mark Cohen. They raise a variety of mushrooms including the popular shiitake mushroom variety.

Recently the operation at Wingstem looked more like a logging camp than a mushroom farm. Once a year, Rojahn and Cohen harvest a select number of trees to cut into smaller logs.

“We cut logs,” said Rojahn. “Ideally, when the sap’s running and the sugar content is the highest, because that’s what the mycelium eat.”

Wingstem Farms owners Mark Cohen and Lexi Rojahn size up trees for mushroom logs (Photo: George Noleff)

Mycelium is the fungal spawn that mushrooms fruit from.

“We’re looking for logs eight to ten inches in diameter,” added Cohen.

The size is key for the mushrooms to grow once they are inoculated with the mycelium.

The wood collected from the most recent logging operation will be segmented and stored at the farm. Eventually, they will be drilled and the holes will receive mushroom spawn.

After that, they will be stacked, watered, tended, and eventually in a matter of weeks or months, depending on the variety, mushrooms will fruit. The process can be forced with watering and other techniques to produce more mushrooms.

“You can force them multiple times a season,” said Rojahn. “So, as long as it’s not really cold, they’ll grow in the spring; if we force them they’ll grow in the summer, and they grow in the fall. They need approximately eight weeks to rest between forced fruitings.”

Because logs are so vital to the type of mushroom farming done at Wingstem, it requires them to practice sustainable farming and forestry. There are about 2,000 logs in the Wingstem rotation. Each has an average lifespan of about four years. No log is wasted.

“We don’t want to exploit the resources that we have,” Rojahn said while gesturing to the stacked logs that will sprout mushrooms this spring. “We consider how it impacts not just us, but the wildlife, how it impacts erosion; and that way, producing a product that the consumer is getting a bigger benefit from and a better product in the end.”

Wingstem Farms mushrooms can be purchased online, at the Grandin Village Farmers Market, and through the Edible Goose Creek CSA.

Dried shiitake mushrooms from Wingstem Farms (Photo: George Noleff)