Mushrooms Provide Sustainable Nutrition in Delaware

Businesses in the First State like East View Farms and One Coastal take advantage of the health benefits and delicious flavor of mushrooms.

What if one food could boost immunity, fight cancer, provide vitamin D and replace meat for a more sustainable future?

Mushrooms might be that answer.

An oyster mushroom
Oyster mushrooms at Ryan Richard’s farm have an earthy taste and are linked to a host of health benefits, making them a great addition to chef Matt Kern’s cuisine.

At East View Farms in Frankford, Ryan Richard is experimenting with mushroom farming.

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Richard says his family, which established East View Farms in 1993, has always been interested in sustainable farming and was looking for crops that might become a meat or protein alternative.

He had read studies suggesting mushrooms could be the answer to food scarcity concerns, with researchers noting that in addition to providing protein, mushrooms can also offer health benefits.

Harvard’s Nutrition Source reports that mushrooms exposed to ultraviolet light provide vitamin D, while certain types of the fungi may have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticancer effects.

When Richard’s father, Randall, passed away in 2016, Richard and his mother, Alyssa, considered innovative ideas for the business, which includes a a greenhouse, farm and market.

Richard has worked closely with restaurant chefs for years and was excited to offer them something new—a trending plant-based protein that wasn’t commonly grown in the area.

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He started experimenting with spores and soon was growing oyster and shitake mushrooms before branching out into more exotic varieties like lion’s mane—a shaggy, globelike mushroom that grows on decaying wood and tastes like crab or lobster.

Chef Matt Kern of One Coastal in Fenwick Island is a customer.

“Ryan shows up in his truck and tells me what he has,” Kern says. “I look at the produce and pick what I can use.… My mission is to support local growers and farmers. Mushrooms are my favorite thing to eat, so I was so excited when Ryan told me he was starting to grow them.”

Kern adds oyster mushrooms to a steaming ramen broth bowl with crunchy carrots and bean sprouts, and he tops his Eastern Shore Chicken and Dumplings with lion’s manes, their silky, seafood-like flavor set off by the buttery flavor of the chicken.

a dish from One Coastal featuring local greens and mushrooms
At One Coastal, expect fresh fare highlighting local ingredients, like greens and mushrooms, in this take on chicken and dumplings.

While Kern has foraged for mushrooms in the past, it can be time-consuming and often fruitless.

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“Mushrooms are like the unicorns of the natural world,” Kern explains. “They don’t follow the same rules as plants. They can be elusive, so having a local grower makes a huge difference [because you know you will have a set supply].”

Richard says he plans to expand his mushroom operation once he can move into a larger space, which he plans to do later this year.

Mushrooms aren’t just good for eating: They aid in keeping the environment clean and healthy by growing on decomposing material such as animal waste, paper and wood. Growing mushrooms in an old poultry house, for example, can help farmers clean up while mitigating the potentially dangerous environmental effects of having waste end up in local waterways.

Mycoremediation, a biological or chemical cleanup process, prevents toxins or pollutants from disasters such as oil spills from entering waterways or leaching into the environment. Fungi break down contaminants while growing and spreading. In many cases, the mushrooms can be harvested and eaten, unless the toxins include heavy metals, which are poisonous.

“Mushrooms are great for the environment because they excel at breaking things down,” says Nancy Gregory, a plant pathologist and mycologist, and a retired University of Delaware professor. “They could also be considered the future of food because they are a great meat substitute—similar in taste, texture and with the benefit of a higher fiber content.”

Gregory often took her classes into the woods to look for mushrooms and discuss their many benefits. She says mushrooms also produce industrial enzymes and dyes for fabrics. Recently, a group of UD researchers completed a mushroom project to create leather-like products.

“When it comes to mushrooms, more studies are underway to truly understand how they can benefit us,” Gregory adds. “I encourage people to look for mushrooms— but don’t eat them unless you are absolutely certain of the identification. You have to know a lot about fungi to be confident picking them from the wild.”

Matt Kern and Ryan Richard looking at mushrooms
One Coastal chef and owner Matt Kern (left) enlists Ryan Richard of East View Farms to provide protein-rich mushrooms for his upscale menu.

Fortunately for those wary of foraging, many local farmers markets and grocers are offering an increasing number of mushroom varieties.

“Get some mushroom varieties from the store and experiment with them at home,” Gregory advises. “You really can’t go wrong with just a little oil or butter and garlic.”

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Related: Delaware’s Best Food & Drink in 2022 According to Our Editors

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