-The following first appeared in The Floyd Press on April 6, 2017.
Foragers and gardeners, retirees and young homesteaders came from near and far to attend the 4th annual New River Valley Mushroom Cultivation Workshop. The 10 am to 2 pm Saturday event was presented by fungus farmers and fermenters Matt Reiss and Jenna Kuczynski of Gnomestead Hollow Farm and Forage in Dugspur. It was hosted at Ruth Neumann’s Floyd County property on Milky Way.
According to the couple’s website, Reiss and Kuczynski are “committed to growing food using ethical and biological growing practices, producing and bringing you the highest quality, most delicious, nutrient-dense vegetable ferments and farmed and foraged mushrooms in the New River Valley and surrounding areas.”
They’ve had years of study and experience, which is why 65 attendees traveled from New York, Florida, Ohio, Maryland, North Carolina, West Virginia and from all over Virginia to benefit from their expertise.
Two women from Ithaca, New York, said they have been following Reiss and Kuczynski’s work on social media and attended the workshop to learn new skills to expand their Crooked Carrot fermented foods business. Giles Countian Denise Blakeney came to support her husband Jim, a longtime mushroom forager.
Jill Pope from Pilot Mountain, NC, came ready to learn. “I love to eat them, so figured I may as well learn to grown them, or at least forage for them and not poison myself,” said Pope, who attended with her mother.
Kelly Erb, a local chef and owner of The Invisible Chef, said she was interested in learning to grow her own mushrooms for gourmet culinary purposes. Others were focused on the medicinal properties of mushrooms.
Attendees warmed up with hot Gnomestead reishi and chaga tea, and participated in a meet-and-greet circle where they named their favorite mushroom: morels, chicken of the wood, oyster, black trumpet, chanterelle, shitake, chaga and more.
Mushroom identification was a popular topic of the day. Reiss and Kuczynski led attendees on a walk around Neumann’s pond in search of fungi. At one point, Reiss drew attention to a turkey tail mushroom, noting that the species has been studied and approved as an adjunct therapy for cancer. “It’s a really good immune modulator, and it protects cells against the damage of radiation and chemotherapy,” he said. Kuczynski (below) found a dyers polypore mushroom, which is not eatable but can be used for dying fiber.
The mushroom lifecycle was reviewed – from spore to germination to the creation of mycelium – a tight network of underground fibrous cells that the mushroom fruit grows from. Then, attendees got busy with some hands-on cultivation. They prepared oyster mushroom growing bags and learned how to make a shiitake mushroom log.
The workshop included lunch, which was prepared with locally sourced food and included golden turmeric tamales made with gnomegrown shitttake mushrooms, sofrito’d black beans, roasted garlic and sweet potato. Also available were Kuczynski’s handcrafted cacao truffles, made with reishi tea and chaga tea, cacao paste, cashews, pecans, almonds, coconut flakes, vanilla bean and dates.
Floyd attendee April Bourgois described lunch as “fabulous.” “It was wonderful,” she said about the workshop the next day. “I’ve already started running shiitake plugs onto cardboard.” – Colleen Redman
Post Notes: Gnomegrown and Gnomecrafted products can be found at regional Farmers Markets and area health food stores, including The Harvest Moon Food Store. Their gourmet mushrooms frequently end up in meals served in fine restaurants around the area. For more information, visit their webpage gnomesteadhollow.com or check them out on Facebook.