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And delicious fungi. You can now get gourmet mushrooms grown right in Southern Pines. You may recognize Mackinley Farmer from Gwen’s Hat Club, but she’s expanding her mark on the community with Sgt. Pepper’s Mushroom Farm. Mackinley comes from a long line of farmers and despite opening the hat shop, which she loves, she still had the desire to grow things.
“Growing mushrooms is totally different from growing crops like corn,” says Mackinley. “My family always grew giant fields full of crops. Mushrooms don’t take much space.”
Where did the name come from? The business was named for Mackinley’s dog, Pepper, who’s favorite place was her family’s farm.
So how does one grow a mushroom? “It’s kind of science-y,” says Mackinley. It can take up to three months from start to finish. Unlike most crops, you can’t start with seeds. Since mushrooms are a fungus, you have to begin with spores and a liquid culture to start growing mycelium. Unfortunately starting with spores (which are everywhere) and a liquid culture makes the jars more susceptible to contamination. But worry not — if that happens, the mushrooms simply won’t grow. You can’t grow a “bad” mushroom.
Mycelium is under the soil at all times. It is a white-ish looking network of fungus that grows mushrooms and is what plants use to communicate. Mckinley begins the mycelium and goes through a series of steps before getting to the final product. Once the complicated stuff is out of the way, the production bags go into “the tent,” a room that is climate controlled with temperature, light, airflow and humidity.
In most grocery stores you’ll find very basic white mushrooms or shiitake. At Sgt. Pepper’s you’ll find lion’s mane, pioppino and a variety of oyster mushrooms: black, pearl, pink, gold, elm, Phoenix, gray and blue.
“Most people don’t know how many varieties of mushrooms and flavor profiles are out there,” says Mackinley. “There’s also a ton of research coming out about all the health benefits, anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants different mushrooms have.”
Sgt. Pepper’s Mushroom Farm supplies local restaurants such as Ashton’s Restaurant, The Sly Fox, Elliott’s on Linden, Scott’s Table and Chef Warren’s Bistro. Leftovers are then sold to individuals, typically in 1.5lb boxes, on a first-come, first-serve basis. There isn’t a physical store front but you can set up a time for pickup on harvest days. Follow on instagram for mushie updates.