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Stories from the valley

The Story behind a Superfood

Contributed by Steve Beckley

After years of curiosity, I finally had the opportunity to visit a unique Sacramento Valley farming operation near Colusa – Premier Mushroom Inc. – getting a fascinating tour with their CEO John Ashbaugh, Sustainability Coordinator Kevin Foley and long time friend and fellow Grimes native Kathy Craigo of Kathy Craigo Media.

The United States produces nearly a billion pounds of mushrooms a year, and California grows about one-tenth of that total.  Pennsylvania is the number one production state with 63 percent of that total, while California is number two.

Premier produces about 300,000 pounds of white, Crimini, and Portabella Mushrooms a week using Dutch Technology on a 32-acre site that has 64 growing rooms.  They employ over 200 people.

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Touring the facility, it was evident that food safety, traceability and environmental sustainability were top priorities in production.  What was interesting was the use of many agricultural byproducts in their process.  They start with compost made from wheat straw and, after the production cycle is complete, the compost is taken to the fields to enrich soils.

It was interesting to tour several grow rooms to watch the growth process.  It takes about five weeks from the time the inoculated compost goes to the growing room to harvest.  Each growing room is hand harvested three times.  Then mushrooms are packed and distributed to retail and food service markets in California.

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One of their commitments is to renewable energy, as the production process requires a controlled climate in which the mushrooms can be grown.  They have installed biomass power generators that use walnut shells to produce 30 percent of their power.  They have a goal of producing 100 percent of their own power by 2020.

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It was fun to learn about old product, being produced in a modern fashion with technology and science in the Sacramento Valley.