Here’s something you might not know. It’s possible to get something called “mushroom cough” and get sick. Like, six months worth of sick. So if you think you’re too cool to wear a mask when visiting the Long Island Mushroom farm in Cutchogue, John Quigley, one of the owners, will set you straight.
He already spent months coughing out the spores from the hundreds of pounds of shitake mushrooms he and his partner, Jane Maguire, are producing every day. “I thought I had bronchitis and then pneumonia,” he says. “Nope, I was just too cool.” Fair warning, because you might want to spend some time at their mushroom farm, a 6,500-square-foot building on Cox Lane. Raw wooden shelves stretch to the back of the room and to the ceiling, stacked with logs made from sawdust and wood pulp. And out of each log mushrooms are “pinning” that first poke into the world. Soon there are creamy tan clusters, which the couple breaks off and sells either fresh or dehydrated mostly to farmstands and restaurants. Customers Maguire found by knocking on kitchen doors and dropping off samples.
The response has been good, says Quigley, because after much trial and error, he found that to produce the best mushrooms, he must usher them through their lifecycle himself. He no longer relies on others to deliver the logs. Each week he travels to McKenna Square, Penn., where the logs are made and inoculated with spores, to buy them and bring them home in a refrigerated truck. “This way I have the most control over it,” he says. Then by the end of the week, the couple is filling orders and delivering the mushrooms themselves. “I know if Garden of Eve calls at 10 a.m.,” says Maguire. “They’re going to have them by 11.”
The freshness carries over the whole operation. No pesticides or fertilizers are used. The cleaness of the logs means no dirt clinging to the mushrooms and the logs are 100-percent recyclable. Quigley says they’re thinking of burning them to fuel their dehydrator. This is a far cry from what the couple were doing just a year ago. Quiqley was working in finance and construction in Pennsylvania and Maguire, a 17-year Mattituck resident, was working in retail.
For now Quigley and Maguire are selling the mushrooms in half pound boxes that can be found at farmstands for about $10. The restaurants buy in bulk. Soon they will have two products, a tapenade and a spread, to add to the repertoire. As well as miitake mushrooms and oyster mushrooms, which were just putting out their first “pulse” in the middle of May. Quigley and Maguire join Bridgehampton-based Open Minded Organics as the second mushroom farm on the East End.
Maguire admits she doesn’t really like mushrooms, eating them, but she does love growing them. “I talk to them,” she says. “I think it helps.”