As winter descends, cool winds drifting down canyons relieve the heat, ripple through cottonwood leaves, and stir flowing water. On the edge of Aravaipa Creek, Andrew Carhuff and his partner Nicole Devito—the owners of Old Pueblo Mushroom Growers—cultivate their crop.
From October to March, Arizona temperatures are nearly perfect for growing mushrooms.
“We have a very long season compared to other places in the country where mushrooms have to be heated in wintertime,” Carhuff said.
Carhuff has grown mushrooms as a hobby for years, “wherever I had space,” he said. In May, Carhuff and Devito expanded their hobby to a five-acre farm near Aravaipa Canyon.
“Our goal is to turn our mushroom operation into a diversified farm with mushrooms as one of the main crops, and use the compost from mushroom production to grow other crops,” Carhuff said. “We have really nice land, water, and good soil.”
The pair grow mainly oyster mushrooms, selected because of their tolerance for a wide range of temperatures.
Mushrooms can be grown from spores shed by the adult fungus or from tissue clones. Carhuff and Devito use both methods, nurturing their spongy crops in a nutrient-rich mixture of grain and straw packed inside buckets or logs.
Many mushrooms grow well on logs; Carhuff noted that he and Devito plan to experiment with growing shitake mushrooms on the cottonwood logs that adorn their farm.
“My goal is to have our mushrooms be as close to wild mushrooms as possible in terms of flavor and texture,” he said. “A lot of times the mushrooms you see in the supermarkets are watered-down versions of what you’d find in the wild.”
For their watery consistency, mushrooms pack a sizeable amount of nutrition. A source of protein and selenium, mushrooms may help to lower cholesterol. They are also high in vitamin D.
“When sunlight hits mushrooms they produce vitamin D the same as humans do,” Carhuff explained. “A lot of people think mushrooms grow in the dark, but the best conditions are filtered light.”
Carhuff journeys into Tucson to showcase his harvest on Sundays at the Heirloom Farmers’ Market at Rillito Park, and on Thursdays at the Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market.
Carhuff, who has been a chef all his adult life, tells his customers that fresh mushrooms are best eaten during the first three or four days. He recommends grilling and marinating the larger oyster mushrooms, using them as a substitute for meat, or just sautéing them in fresh butter.
“I’m interested in all things local, seasonal,” he said. “The simpler, the better.”
Carnuff and Devito are looking for volunteers to help cultivate and harvest their crops on Mondays and Wednesdays, offering overnight accommodation at their farm for any helpers. Email Carhuff at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find him at the farmers’ market.
Old Pueblo Mushroom Growers. 520.577.6136.