This past summer, Ryan Munko of Clinton began selling his homegrown mushrooms and mushroom growing kits at the Washington Main Street and Cecil farmers markets. Still in his first year of the endeavor, the twenty-six-year-old entrepreneur said the excitement and feedback he’s gotten from people has been amazing.
“They’ll come up to me at the market and say what we’re doing is great and that they hope to see us come back every week,” Munko said.
Now that the farmers market season is over, he hopes to continue his business by selling online and to restaurants, especially those with a farm-to-table model, as well as area specialty grocery stores.
“That will take a lot of knocking on doors on my part,” he said.
Already, you can find his harvested mushrooms and grow kits at Farmers and Friends Marketplace, a store specializing in meats and cheeses along with fresh produce, dairy and other locally produced items, at 145 S. Main Street in Washington.
In the future, he plans to talk with buyers at the East End Food Co-op in Pittsburgh, Janoski’s Market in Clinton and others about the possibility of retailing his mushrooms and grow kits.
With his growing facility and business office located in Moon Township, Munko and partner Mark Myers named their enterprise Moonshrooms. They have an inventory of up to 10 mushroom varieties at the site. Of these, they take three to five types to each farmers market but switch them weekly to add more interest.
New varieties now on hand include lion’s mane, blue oyster and pink oyster to go along with their chestnut, pioppino and yellow oyster varieties.
“Not only is lion’s mane a culinary mushroom, but peer research has shown it to have medicinal properties,” Munko said. “The mushroom is said to repair neurons, improve mental clarity and be beneficial to those with Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis.”
Munko said the taste and texture of lion’s mane is similar to that of crab and that some buyers shred it and turn it into a crab cake alternative. While yellow, pink and blue oysters taste identical, others have completely different taste profiles.
One simple way of preparing mushrooms is to saute them in olive oil, then add butter to enhance their flavor.
Munko said he’s always experimenting with different mushroom recipes and recently added mushroom jerky to his list of products.
While setting up shop at a farmers market, Munko provided all sorts of information to his customers, including recipe handouts. All of the mushrooms in his inventory are not usually found in markets and grocery stores. The asking price for a pound of his mushrooms is $20, with the grow kits selling for $30.
“If you grow them according to instructions, you can end up with as many as three harvests, each weighing up to between 1 1/2 to 3 pounds per harvest,” he said.
Fresh mushrooms will keep between 5 and 10 days, depending on how you store them. The best option is to keep them in the refrigerator in a moist brown paper bag with a wet paper towel.
Munko and Myers began researching mushrooms in July of 2021, mainly by watching YouTube videos and studying what Munko calls the “Mushroom Bible,” a text by Paul Stamets titled “Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms.”
“Stamets is probably the leading expert on mushrooms at the moment,” Munko said.
The partners started acquiring equipment in November 2021 and saw their first growth in February.
Munko became passionate about mushrooms in 2017 after hiking the Appalachian Trail for several months from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Along the way, he was fascinated by the number of fungi he saw growing along the trail.
“I was always interested in the outdoors, mushrooms and cooking,” he said. “Mark and I had been running a candle business but decided we didn’t like it. We then thought about growing mushrooms as it is something we’re both interested in.”
Hopefully, the business will grow as more and more people order a grow kit online at moonshrooms.com. To grow them, leave them in the box and cut either an X or a U-shaped slit in the plastic shield at the front. Spray or mist the slit 3 to 5 times daily with water and keep it at 60 to 80-degree temperatures.
More specific instructions can be found with the kit and online.
“You should see the first growth three to 10 days later,” he said. “After you see small pinheads, three to five days later, you should be able to harvest full-grown mushrooms.”
So far, Munko said the success rate reported by customers has been 100 percent. Even so, all kits are guaranteed, or customers get their money back.
“Mushrooms aren’t quite vegetables and aren’t quite meat but seem to fall somewhere in between,” Munko said. “They add so much value to the culinary world. Aside from that, they have promising medicinal effects, as well as solutions to creating a more sustainable world. We hope to help forge the way in exploring every application of fungi and its mushrooms.”