The Van Trump Report

Making “Morel Mushrooms” Available Year-Round

Here at home, everybody has been out and about the past few weeks hunting for mushrooms, particularly the “morel mushrooms” which are coveted by chefs and eaters alike for their intensely nutty, woodsy flavor. The fungi are typically only available during a short timeframe during the spring and only in the wild. Meaning the commercial morel market is almost entirely supplied by forages who traipse through the wilderness to harvest the elusive delicacy. Fresh morels can bring as much as $50-$75 a pound, and around $200 per pound dried thanks to their scarcity. But a plan by a Danish group to grow them in greenhouses aims to turn the market on its head.

The Morel Project was founded by twin brothers and biologists Jacob and Kartsen Kirk, which say they’ve developed a method to reliably grow morels in a climate-controlled environment. The twins claim to have been “bewitched” by the idea of morel cultivation as undergraduate college students while in college in Copenhagen in the late 70s. The Kirk brothers in their youth were ardent foragers as well as would-be scientists that even constructed their own home laboratory to recreate experiments they read about. They had successfully cultivated other mushrooms but were intrigued by morels because of their price tag as well as the fact that no one else had successfully done it.

That was back in the early 1980s – the Kirk brothers are now 64. Last year they harvested over 300 pounds of black morels using the system they have been working on for nearly four decades now. The Kirks say indoor crops can yield about 10 pounds per square meter within a cultivation period of 22 weeks. That’s enough for the Kirks to finally be able to “see the business side of this,” with costs for their cultivation method in-line with that of standard white button mushrooms.

Morels were successfully cultivated at one time in the U.S. but the companies involved fell on hard times during the financial crisis. The groups involved say high energy and labor costs since then have prevented them from rebooting operations. While the cultivation method appears to have worked just fine, they also admit that making the process economically viable was a major challenge.

The Kirks say they did attempt to duplicate the patented process those U.S. cultivators used but never had any success. Their own project stumbled until they gave up trying to cultivate the mushrooms indoors. It was a successful outdoor cultivation experiment around 2005 that helped them find their magic formula and they’ve been working to perfect it ever since. 

Only two people other than the Kirks know their secrets but one of the tricks to success is apparently grass. The pair told The New York Times that including grass in their soil somehow stimulates the mycelium. And after developing a prototype for several cultivation strategies, they designed and built a system of movable pallets to commercialize the most productive one.

The Kirks are still trying to figure out the best path forward as far as commercializing their innovation. They believe their growing method is developed enough to begin commercial production, though they say an automated cultivation process is still needed. You can learn more about the Danish Morel Project HERE.

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