Focusing on fungi changes everything for a Pine River family
Strictly Mushrooms in Pine River is a Northern Minnesota business focused on mushrooms and mushroom products.
PINE RIVER — Rob Prekker wanted something different for his family.
He’d worked blue-collar jobs most of his life and the economy forced him away from home for work. Mulling over career options, Prekker’s partner Rachel Ingberg offhandedly mentioned growing mushrooms.
Her suggestion inoculated his curiosity and in a short time, mushrooms took over their lives. The couple’s business is Strictly Mushrooms and they are now a robust source of gourmet mushrooms.
“In four years, we went from a spare room to an entire facility,” Prekker said on the Thursday, April 13, Area Voices segment of the KAXE/KBXE Morning Show. “We’re a year and a half into an 8,000-square-foot facility.”
Currently, over 30 varieties of mushrooms grow at Strictly Mushrooms and they supply restaurants, farmers markets and co-ops around Northern Minnesota with product. They also sell grow kits for indoor and outdoor cultivation and an array of dried mushroom powders and tinctures.
Prekker and Ingberg’s facility is along the lines of a science lab. Sterile and closely regulated, the growing environment is specifically tailored to indoor mushrooms. Creating a sealed environment, Prekker mimics how nature inspires mushroom growth.
“I control everything, the CO2, the oxygen, the humidity,” he said. “The mushroom itself is the fruiting body – it's the orange or the apple of the tree. So, typically, if the mushrooms are content and happy, have a food source, everything is good, they’re not gonna want to waste energy on producing fruits (or mushrooms).”
"In four years, we went from a spare room to an entire facility. We’re a year and a half into an 8,000-square-foot facility."Rob Prekker
Temperature and humidity levels are manipulated to prompt growth, Prekker explained. Lower temperatures, higher humidity and fresh air are part of the equation.
“You make them feel like something’s going on and risking their life, so basically they need to reproduce,” he said. “ … You just cut that block open and it senses that burst of oxygen and humidity and temperature control and it throws fruits out of that opening, trying to save itself.”
Highly productive in the right environments, mushrooms are harvested twice a day at Strictly Mushrooms. But everything is dependent on the climate.
“If I lose control of the CO2 or the humidity or anything for even just a few hours, you literally watch stuff die in the room every minute,” Prekker said. “It’s just insane how fast things go – in both directions.”
From knowing little about mushrooms four years ago, Prekker and his family are connoisseurs now, able to advise patrons on what to try and how to cook different varieties. Chestnut mushrooms often sell out immediately at farmers markets and the family has coined them “mushroom haters’ mushrooms.”
“No matter if you sauté them, bake them, fry them, and even pressure canned them in a stock, the stem stays crunchy and they have more of a nutty flavor to them, not that mushroom flavor,” Prekker said.
Prekker noted his personal journey with the distinctive lions mane variety took some experimenting.
“I kept hearing good things about them,” he said. “ … We prefer to tear it into really small pieces, so it dries out a bit in the middle an then we get a brown crust on it – it's like popcorn shrimp and we’ll throw it in a Caesar salad or something.”
To hear more about Strictly Mushrooms — from establishing homegrown kits to Prekker’s processes of inoculation, cloning and more — listen above.
Area Voices is made possible by the MN Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of MN.