Ever had a super-fresh mushroom? Good, right? A luxury item? Maybe not. But if you live in the Hawaiian islands, a fresh mushroom used to be unthinkable.
Enter Bob Stanga. Gentlemen farmer (with an interior designer wife) who just wanted to grow something in Hawaii. Lucky Hawaiians, he chose mushrooms.
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The result? Hamakua Heritage Farms in Laupahoehoe, not too far from Hilo on the Big Island where Bob and team are cultivating specialty mushrooms and doing tours to show you. And not only do you get a chance to taste them on site, but you will also do so in the most aesthetically pleasing manufacturing space I have ever seen, thanks to the talent of Bob's wife Janice.
The four mushrooms – the gray oyster, the pioppini, the ali'i (trumpet) and the abalone are bottle-cultivated using a Japanese method that Bob picked up from their mentor and soul sister farm, Gourmet Mushrooms in Sebastopol, California (lucky me! in my area). Using the method developed by the Japanese, the mushrooms are grown in special containers containing a mixture of corncob, wheat bran and eucalyptus saw dust.
There are a bunch of steps that take place and when completed they are placed in special rooms with natural light left to do their thing. After about five weeks the result is an almost-too-beautiful-to-eat mushroom bouquet that gets sliced off, packaged and sent out to over 200 hotels and restaurants all over the islands.
The mushrooms are also available at some local grocery stores as well as Costco throughout the islands. Costco became one of their first clients when they got curious about a purchase the Stanga family made. Bob and Janice had bought out all their steel racks (where they place the mushrooms on) and Costco wanted to know why. When they contacted the Stangas to ask and heard about the mushrooms, they flew out from Seattle, liked what they saw and have been buying ever since.
The folks at Hamakua are smart when it comes to marketing the mushrooms, they let the chefs drive demand and usage. With so few original products available to them (on my trip I learned that 90% of all food on the islands is imported!), the chefs clamor for them. After my visit, I saw them on menus all over, and ordered them as much as possible, doing my duty to contribute! One taste and you'll quickly see why the natives and chefs can't get enough.
If plain old mushrooms aren't enough, the mad geniuses at Hamakua can offer you any number of items with mushrooms in or on them. There are lavosh breads and cookies made with, or dipped in, mushroom dust. There are jams and teas, you name and they are thinking about how to do it with mushrooms. The Hamakua team have cooked up plenty of mushroom food products, there is literally something for everyone.
Even if you aren't a fan of eating mushrooms you'll enjoy the gorgeous store and factory space there are touches of Bob's wife everywhere, including the mushroom artwork. The prettiest factory I have ever seen!
Visiting the factory and doing the tour is another way to support local tourism and agriculture on the islands. Hamakua does a lot of work with local businesses, either collaborating with them on food products or by getting sponsorships for student and senior visits. These visits allow Hawaiians to get a better understanding of the importance of supporting a local farmer. Increased education and demand help provide farmers a greater opportunity to feed their community.
Support local. Import less. It is win-win.
How about you? Have you been to a mushroom farm? Do you like mushrooms? How about a favorite recipe?
My visit to Hawaii was courtesy of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, my visit to Hamakua Farms was comped. But as always, all opinions are my own.
You can also view more of my trip to the Big Island in my Big Island of Hawaii for Foodies Wanderlist on AFAR.
More of my Hawaii Big Island stories:
- [mis]Adventures in Loco Moco in Hilo
- [mis]Adventures in Kona
- [mis]Adventures in Hilo Redux
- Hilo Hawaiian Hotel
- Hawaii – Hilo Grown Tour
- Hawaii – AgriTourism
- Hawaii – Greenwell Farms
- Hawaii: Volcano Winery
- Hawaii for Foodies: Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort
- Da Poke Shack
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