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Mushroom mavens: Homegrown business offers fresh fungi in Brainerd lakes area

Sep 02, 2019 03:16PM ● By Editor
King oysters sprout from the grow bag they germinated in on a shelf in a climate controlled area. Photo:  Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

By Chelsey M. Perkins of The Brained Dispatch - September 2, 2019

PINE RIVER -- Mushrooms are one of those mysterious natural wonders that can appear seemingly overnight -- much like Rob Prekker and Rachel Ingberg’s small business.

What began as an off-handed remark during a brainstorming session in February has -- just months later -- come to fruition as Strictly Mushrooms, a rapidly expanding culinary mushroom growing operation based in the couple’s Pine River home. They knew they’d found an unexplored niche among lakes area food businesses within moments of seeking their first restaurant customers.

“All we did was introduce ourselves, and you always bring a sample. We’d open up that sample: ‘Yep, I’ll take them,’” Prekker said. “They’d say, ‘You can’t get them up here, there’s nowhere to get them.’”

Rob Prekker and Rachel Ingberg  grow mushrooms in the converted shed on their property Their mushrooms have appeared on plates at a number of notable area restaurants Kelly Humphrey  Brainerd Dispatch
Rob Prekker and Rachel Ingberg grow mushrooms in the converted shed on their property. Their mushrooms have appeared on plates at a number of notable area restaurants. Photo: Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Fresh shiitakes and oyster mushrooms of the king, blue and yellow varieties grown by Prekker and Ingberg have appeared on plates at 3 Cheers Hospitality restaurants Prairie Bay, Iron Range Eatery and Dock 77, along with Sage on Laurel, Bar Harbor, Black Bear Lodge & Saloon and Maucieri’s Italian Bistro. Prairie Bay executive chef Jenna Brower Von Siebolds chose the company’s mushrooms as one of her three signature ingredients during this year’s Minced cooking competition hosted by Sprout in Little Falls. So sought after are the ingredients by local chefs, the couple is pushing themselves to the limits to meet demand, they said.

This included a July move from Brainerd to a Pine River home better suited for the operation, complete with nearly a month of late nights and early mornings to convert a ramshackle shed into a laboratory and preparation area and a portion of their basement into a fruiting room. 

“My plan is by October or November, I want to be doing 100 pounds a week,” Prekker said. “That allows you to join certain programs and organizations. Those help you get more connections and into a bit of the wholesale side of it.”

Living the dream

Strictly Mushrooms has its beginnings as a strong desire on Prekker’s part to once again become his own boss. He has a history of offbeat small businesses, including breeding worms while producing organic gardening soil and logging firewood seven days a week. Both of these previous businesses fell victim to circumstances outside his control, he said -- the worms and soil to the Great Recession, the firewood to a particularly warm winter when fireplaces remained dormant as a home heating alternative.

But this winter had Prekker, 36, dreaming again. He and Ingberg, also 36, first considered becoming organic catnip farmers, even going so far as to acquire equipment. Midstream in the planning process, Ingberg made a half-serious suggestion: What about mushrooms? It was a comment that prompted Prekker to conduct intensive research for days and left him with just one question himself: Why not mushrooms?

Much of the equipment in which they’d already invested translated to mushroom production, and soon they’d “knocked up” their first bags of substrate -- mushroom farmer slang for introducing mushroom spawn to a growing medium. Weeks later, they would taste their first homegrown king oysters.

Ingberg didn’t even like to eat mushrooms at the time.

“Now I love them, I actually want them in things,” she said. “He’s a large advocate of making sure you try things multiple times before you say you don’t like it. So he cooked me mushrooms and that was that. He knows how to make them.”

Ingberg posted the mushrooms for sale on Facebook Marketplace and the response was swift.

“The next day it was sold out with four people waiting,” Prekker said. “Two weekends later, we got another flush and we had 10 pounds. Literally the next day they were gone.”

To read more of the original article and see related reporting, follow this link to the Brainerd Dispatch website.

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