Mushrooms have really been making headlines lately and no, I am not here to talk about the psychedelic variety.
Last year, I was introduced to the Two River Mushroom Co. through one of my restaurant clients and I was instantly intrigued. It never occurred to me to think about how mushrooms show up at the grocery store or on a plate at a restaurant. So when I learned there was a local mushroom farm, it really caught my attention.
Enter KC Sullivan: science teacher by day, mushroom farmer by night, weekends, and pretty much every other waking moment.
I visited Sullivan at his shipping container “farm” nestled in the backyard of the White Chapel Project, in Long Branch. It was a frigid January day, but I was soon enveloped in the warm mist and pink glow of the fruiting room.
Sullivan is the founder and chief farmer at Two River Mushroom Co. He supplies area restaurants, health food stores, and gourmet groceries with an exciting variety of hard-to-find mushrooms.
The team includes Tom Cowling and Jeff Porter, lead mycologists and in charge of operations and production; Scott Szegeski, partner, retail and wholesale logistics; and Kurt Cavano, partner, product development, communications.
In the quiet back room at White Chapel, he explained to me how he got into mushroom farming and what he hopes for the future of Two River Mushroom.
JERSEY BITES: So, KC, why mushrooms?
KC SULLIVAN: I went to school for environmental science at Stockton State College [now University] and I’ve always been into gardening and sustainability.
If you’re into gardening and you like the idea of getting out what you put into it, mushrooms grow so fast it’s amazing.
One year I decided I was going to inoculate some logs that had fallen after a storm. I experimented with shiitake logs. You inoculate the log and then a year later they fruit out. It worked and I was really fascinated by seeing the mushrooms come out of the log and how they tasted and the idea that this is something that’s approachable and not overly complicated. So, from that point on, I just really got into it.
How did mushroom farming go from backyard to business for you?
When I was pretty young, I started working at What’s Your Beef, in Rumson, which is now Victory Park Tavern, so I’ve been involved in the restaurant industry for a long time. I saw a need for hyperlocal organic mushrooms.
Mushrooms are highly perishable, especially oyster mushrooms. The quality of mushrooms restaurants and grocery stores typically receive is not great. To be able to get the product picked the day of and then into the hands of the chef all within hours is something unique and valued. The chefs really embraced it. They’ve been able to make some really cool, innovative entrees with what we offer.
Can you tell me about the nutritional value of your mushrooms and the medicinal uses?
We don’t grow any of the white button, cremini or portabella mushrooms.
All of the mushrooms we grow really have amazing properties. It’s a whole new world of flavor, texture, and also medicinal value. One of the more exciting ones right now that is really trending is the lion’s mane mushroom, which has been used in China for about 2000 years.
Lion’s mane has been shown to promote nerve growth or neurogenesis. It can help with cognition and with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. It’s really an amazing mushroom. We offer a line of tinctures that we have formulated as well.
Where do you sell your tinctures?
We sell them at the farm here, but also in some of the Dean’s locations up north. Anyone can reach out to order them.
Do you have an online store?
Not yet. We have a website and we’re looking to switch to a platform that would allow direct purchase. For now, anyone looking to purchase can use the contact form to get in touch.
Are you servicing just businesses in Monmouth County right now?
We go as far south, retail-wise, as Nature’s Corner in Spring Lake. We’re trying to get into Ocean County. We do have one or two accounts there at the moment.
We are looking into a refrigerated van right now. It’s a fine balance. You don’t want to get too big and then have the quality suffer.
You mentioned that you’re trying to teach your students about sustainability and get them into urban farming. Why do you feel so strongly about that?
It’s what my career centers around. I teach in the science department at Middletown High School South. I’m the advisor for the environmental club there as well.
We have always done school beautification projects, on-site gardening and beach sweeps. I’ve always tried to emphasize to the students the importance of creating a more local and resilient food supply chain. I think the pandemic has taught us how fragile our supply chains are.
What are your future goals for Two River Mushroom?
We are collaborating with a company to bring a cobranded medicinal mushroom broth to market. We are also working on many other value-added items that we are excited about, and which will be available very soon! In the near future, we are going to be utilizing a 22-acre farm in Millstone, NJ, to produce our own in-house organic block to supply our two farm locations.
Over the long term, we’d like to gain some more accounts and then get the educational component going. I’d really like to get some of the local students in this area [to better understand] what it means to be an urban organic farm and to be more resilient. I feel like that’s a really good asset.
What are White Chapel’s plans for this summer?
The White Chapel Project is going to be reopening very soon. They’ll have live music, great food, a pizza oven in the beer garden, and a gorgeous courtyard for events. It’s going to be an urban farm, event space, and a restaurant with great micro craft beer.
We’ll have a window where guests can see what’s going on with the mushrooms and people can purchase products. We’re also planning to have various workshops as well.
Small Scale, Wide Variety
Two River Mushroom Co. is the only small-scale USDA-certified organic mushroom farm in the state growing the following variety of mushrooms.
- Black pearl oysterPioppino
- Chestnut (aka cinnamon caps)
- Golden oystera
- Italian oyster
- King royal trumpets
- Lion’s mane
- Pink oyster
Where to Find Two Rivers Mushrooms
Dean’s Natural Food Market
25 Mountainview Blvd.
Basking Ridge, NJ 07920
270 Route 206 S.
Chester, NJ 07930
1119 Highway 35
Ocean, NJ 07712
490 Broad Street
Shrewsbury, NJ 07702
320 Route 34
Colts Neck, New Jersey 07722
Nature’s Corner Natural Market
2407 State Route 71
Spring Lake Heights, NJ 07762
1 Harrison Avenue
Little Silver, NJ 07739
200 Monmouth St
Red Bank, NJ 07701