Book Review

The Bootstrap Guide to Medicinal Herbs in the Garden Field & Marketplace
by Lee Sturdivant and Tim Blakley

From The Mushroom Growers' Newsletter - May 1999

Cover: Mushroom Magic

This book has fourteen chapters and 336 pages. The first seven chapters were written by Sturdivant. Chapter 2 is dedicated to medicinal mushrooms, particularly shiitake. The book has a bias to the Pacific Northwest United States. Thus, for the chapter on mushrooms Sturdivant interviewed three growers in this area.

The first is Jim Macpherson of Snow Peak Mushroom Company in Lebanon, Orego Company in Lebanon, Oregon. Jim's ten-year-old operation is typical of a larger sawdust block facility. The book describes his general processes and notes that he typically has 60,000 blocks incubating and 20,000 blocks fruiting at any one time. Jim also sells incubated blocks, in bulk, to other growers. Based upon a tour of the Snow Peak farm, Sturdivant notes: "like other well paying crops, commercial mushroom growing is not cheap to take up seriously; it is not especially easy, and it is certainly not fast. It really has no get-rich-quick attributes about it."

The second farm is Lynn and Michael Monroe's "Fungus Among Us" in Snohomish, Washington. The Monroes started in a Seattle garage with 100 of Macpherson's blocks. They are still a small farm, but operate out of a small barn, a large greenhouse and a new building. They can handle 5,000 blocks at one time and plan to grow to be a 15,000 block farm. In addition to shiitake they are experimenting with oysters, maitake and Lion's Mane. A key piece of information from the Monroe's was that it is a full time job for two people operating a farm this size.

The third farm Sturdivant visited was San Juan Mushrooms owned by Phil Schulz. The San Juan story is typical of many small growers: start at home using the garage, closets or whatever working only in the evenings; discover it's way too much work; expand to greenhouse; run into a major problem (Schulz's greenhouse collapsed under heavy snow); give up for awhile and try to figure out a better way. When he was interviewed for this book, Schulz wanted to grow something, but wasn't quite sure it would be mushrooms.

On the marketing side, Sturdivant suggests that as U.S. consumers begin to understand the medicinal properties of these mushrooms, the market will expand further. He notes that creating local markets will be the way to be successful whether it is with mushrooms or medicinal herbs. The key factors to successful local marketing will, he says, be freshness, quality, and good service. The organic label will be critical. He also suggests cooking demonstrations at farmers markets or other opportunities where the grower can interact directly with consumers.

While the book has a section called "Resources for Growers", it is poorly done. Many of the references are out of date. For example, the address they provided for The Mushroom Growers' Newsletter was one that became obsolete in June of 1993.

If you are thinking about mushroom cultivation, you can benefit from the experience of the three growers mentioned here. Other than that, the book has little to offer to mushroom growers. It does have a wealth of information on medicinal herbs, if your interests tend to that direction.