Meet Howard Berk of Ellijay Mushrooms! Ellijay Mushrooms grows all of the Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms that you'll find in your meal kits and in our local market each week. Keep reading to learn more about Howard, how he got into growing mushrooms, and what Ellijay Mushrooms is all about!
How did you get into mushroom growing?
I started off in IT for 19 years. During that time I spent endless hours being outside, playing in the garden and growing mushrooms on many different substrates (phonebooks, toilet paper, cardboard and logs). In 2010 a friend told me that Chamblee was about to start up a farmers market and they are looking for people to join and help make it happen. That decision was the moment my life changed forever. The farmers market was successful and I end up finding my 2funguys mushroom partner, Todd Pittard.
2funguys was the first mushroom company. We still make inoculated logs that are sold to consumers for their own mushroom gardens. These Shiitake and Oyster Mushroom logs produce premium edible healthy mushrooms for 2 to 3 years!
Tell us how Ellijay Mushrooms was born.
Four years into 2funguys I got laid off from my IT job and went full time at 2funguys. (We’re still currently grinding away selling DIY mushroom kits on 2funguys.com!) Then, in 2018, Megan Cai reached out to me about starting another mushroom company for commercial and retail sales–Ellijay Mushrooms. Ellijay Mushrooms is a unique mushroom farm located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Ellijay, Georgia. Our mission is to produce the healthiest, best tasting, and highest quality mushrooms. We grow our Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms in really big greenhouses that operate like a Big Green Egg or Kamado Joe–we let air in or out to control the temperature.
Where do you grow your mushrooms? What kind of environment is best for them?
We have 8 greenhouses on the farm in Ellijay. The ideal temperature for Shiitake mushrooms is 65–75ºF, and our Oyster mushrooms love it a tad cooler with a range of 60–70ºF. Our greenhouses are 120 ft long by 25 ft wide.
Do you have any fun facts about growing mushrooms, or mushrooms in general?
I still get happy every time I see the mushroom growing. To see the shiitakes start really tiny and grow into thick, healthy mushrooms puts a smile on my face every day. In ancient Egypt, the consumption of mushrooms was reserved for Pharaohs and royalty because they were believed to be plants of immortality. Today we make sure that everyone has access to these mushrooms!
What’s the hardest part of growing mushrooms?
When the weather is really hot or really cold, we face many production challenges. Harvesting mushrooms is a very tedious job, from thinning the baby mushrooms to harvesting and loading and unloading the logs in and out of the greenhouses.
Personally, what’s your favorite type of mushroom to eat? How do you prepare it?
Love to make Shiitake Bacon… real simple! I’ll eat those as snacks or add them to a shroomtini as a night cap, using the shiitake bacon as a garnish. (Try this Shiitake Bacon recipe!)
What’s your favorite restaurant to eat at in Atlanta?
Big fan of the Word of Mouth Restaurants. Just had an incredible meal this past Saturday at Arnette's Chop Shop. We also love to grab a quick bite at any of the Marlow's Tavern locations, which use a bunch of our Shiitakes!
Try some of Howard's Shiitake mushrooms in our Chicken Marsala meal kit this week! Order by Thursday night for delivery on Sunday 11/14 or Monday 11/15.