Feb 19, 2020
Interview with Scott Engelbrecht, J-M Farms
As a child, I remember mushrooms usually being in cans or
bottles. But today most US farmers grow for the fresh market. It
was a shift that really started in the 1970s and was a way for the
US farmer to be a preferred source in the global market. There is
some cannery mushrooms. Those are usually mushrooms that don’t meet
fresh standards usually. They are a byproduct, a way to use some
now that may be wasted.
The company sells into both food service and retail (grocery
stores, etc) throughout the region. About 25 percent of their
business is retail. Located in northeastern Oklahoma, close to the
Missouri & Arkansas lines, they go as far north as Cheyenne,
Wyoming, as far west as Albuquerque, New Mexico and cover Texas,
Arkansas, parts of Missouri. It’s a pretty good-sized
For the bulk customers, they ship in trays or boxes. And for
retail, most prefer the small carton or till that is packed &
shrink-wrapped by J-M before going out on a truck. They sell whole
and sliced to both bulk and retail. I ended up catching some in a
store while in Oklahoma visiting a college friend and had to take
photos. I had brought a few bags of mushrooms from the farm so I
didn’t need to buy anymore!
Types of Mushrooms They Grow
The typical white mushroom is generally called a button
mushroom but it can be confusing call button is also the smaller
size of mushroom. To be specific, the mushroom we see most
frequently is the button white mushroom. J-M grows a lot of those
but they also grow other mushrooms including brown ones that are
called crimini or portabella depending on the size. The portabella
is planted to enable it to grow to the five to six inches. Those
are all agarigus mushrooms which means they grow in
These mushrooms have gotten a lot of investment and that has
helped make them easier to grow consistently that people will
really enjoy. But there are other mushrooms that are getting more
investment now too.
There are other kinds of mushrooms that like to grow on wood,
especially hardwood so growing them is a little different. Shiitake
are on the list of plans for J-M’s future. Scott says the company
is investigating various exotic mushrooms and they watch adoption
patterns on the coasts. And shiitake have definitely been gaining
Morels are totally different. It is hard to grow commercially
and Scott says lots have tried without finding the answer. Scott
says he thinks the elusive nature of morels combined with the
complexity of its growth will make it hard to do commercially. How
much would people be willing to pay?
The Right Place for a Growing Family
A farm this size, got it’s start as Virgil Jurgensmeyer
decided to leave his corporate job in St. Louis and branch out on
his own in the 1970s. His three sons are running various parts of
the business today as it continues to grow.
Miami, Oklahoma ended up being the right place. He looked for
an area that had good transportation access, energy access, knowing
that the middle of the country was underserved. The company started
out growing 2 million pounds of mushrooms and has increased to
26-27 million pounds of mushrooms! With medium sized mushrooms,
that would be 18-20 mushrooms per pound and everyone of those
millions are hand-picked!
The business has been in Miami for 40 years and there are a
lot of long-term employees. Growing the business has also meant a
lot of hiring and looking longer term J-M knows that providing
employees the type of environment that makes people choose J-M as
the type of place they want to work, is an area of focus for Scott
and the rest of the leadership team.
Food Safety Developments
The idea of fungus being a safe food... it is something to
wrap your mind around. But Scott explains growing fungus in a clean
environment is critical to good mushroom production.
Growing the mushrooms in a controlled, indoor environment is a
major piece of that, but mushroom farmers have also been
pasteurizing compost. That helps make sure the bed produces the
desired mushrooms and only that. It also kills E. coli, listeria
and more which can happen.
There are also other practices, like having just one person
touch the mushroom one time. The vast majority of the mushrooms are
picked and placed directly into the container which it will be
Since mushrooms are grown on compost, J-M has a recipe for
compost that they make up in mass quantities. The put in ratios of
carbon, nitrogen, and manage pH, water, etc. When you are
composting, you are really just feeding microbes. They use wheat
straw (mostly from within the 60-90 miles), chicken litter,
cottonseed meal and gypsum which helps prevent sticking. Everything
feeds the microbes, and the oxygen and water come in, the mushroom
thrives on it.
Making compost is the part of the process which can be most
impacted by weather with rain, heat, cold, drought all impacting
the recipe J-M uses.
Spawns Not Spores
The planting of mushrooms isn’t spores, but a mycelium
attached to a grain like rye or millet. That grain provides the
energy source to get the mushroom started.
Mushrooms don’t need light — so they are kept in rooms that
don’t have a lot of light. Mushrooms do need moisture, oxygen,
carbon and nitrogen. And a combination of microbes and nutrients,
the combination of which remains more art than science. Lots of
research has been done, but there is still a good bit to
As the mushrooms grow, and oxygen needs to be brought in. And
that can end up bringing in drier air, especially in winter. And
making sure you get the humidity right means high energy use like
other indoor agriculture.