Fabulous Fungi: Heather & Norman Fetter, Woodland Jewel Mushrooms
“I never had romantic ideals of owning a farm and driving a tractor,” says mushroom grower Norman Fetter. His obsession with growing the fungi began almost by chance: Someone gave him and his wife Heather a mushroom-growing kit for a wedding gift. They had fun with it and soon bought more kits. Growing mushrooms started as a hobby. But all that changed when the couple moved out of the city. “The space we have really gave us the impetus to take the leap.”
Now the pair produces flawless mushrooms on their farm, Woodland Jewel, in Spring City, Pennsylvania. They’re not far from Kennett Square, touted as the mushroom- growing capital of the world, but Woodland Jewel’s spectacular specimens hardly belong in the same category as the button mushrooms and portobellos destined for supermarket shelves.
Woodland Jewel produces shaggy lion’s mane mushrooms, sturdy shiitakes, and pioppino mushrooms with long, pale stalks and neat brown caps, as well as ruffled oyster mushrooms in shades ranging from pale ivory to golden yellow, fawn, and gray. It’s easy to see why the couple has had success in selling their showstopping products to chefs like Chris Kearse at Will and Andrew Wood at Russet.
One reason that their products look so flawless is that they handle every aspect of production and distribution themselves; their mushrooms never sit in a distributor’s warehouse, drying out. The mushrooms grow on a matrix of wood chips or straw, as the varietal requires, in a highly regulated set of growing conditions. Norm can adjust temperature, humidity and even carbon dioxide levels from his phone, if necessary. The pair take pride in the fact that the only time that they touch the mushrooms is to harvest them. The next person to handle them will be the person cooking them.
Woodland Jewel’s expertise extends to foraging for mushrooms as well. When the weather allows, they forage for maitake, chicken of the woods, chanterelles and morels to sell, and they’re always experimenting with ways to bring these varieties into their production. In fact, they discovered their variety of ivory oyster mushrooms growing wild on their farm. “Nothing was happening in our grow rooms,” Norm recalls, and there on a stump next to their driveway “was this majestic clump of oyster mushrooms, completely perfect.” Eventually, they’d like to create a wild mushroom forest right on their property, where visitors could see mushrooms in their natural habitat.
Now, Norm and Heather are kept busy balancing the needs of the farm and those of their two young children. Though most of their mushrooms go to their restaurant clients, they occasionally send extra to Kimberton Whole Foods or the Fair Food Farmstand, and they hope, at some point, to be able to sell more through a farmers’ market. For now, eager eaters will just have to keep an eye out for them. After all, mushrooms this good are worth searching for.
Spring City, 215.531.1223