When Anne Apparu-Hall moved from Corsica to New York City in the 1980s, she left behind a strong culture of harvesting. “We grew up mushroom harvesting,” she said. “In the fall, everybody is eating mushrooms. It’s inherent to know how to recognize them and how to prepare them.”
But by the time she had her second child, Apparu-Hall was brought back to her roots. After partaking in a community garden in the Rockaways, where she was living, a woman came searching for a way to discard her mushroom blocks, a combination of spores, food mix and other nutrient material for the mushrooms to grow. The woman was also looking to hand off her mushroom growing business located in a controlled growing environment in Brooklyn.
“She burnt out because it’s a lot of money to grow mushrooms in the city. It’s a lot of time and attention,” Apparu-Hall said. “We went to check it out, and I just fell in love with the idea. It was so beautiful and in the heart of Brooklyn.”
And in April 2019, mushrooms.nyc was born. Quickly, Apparu-Hall and her husband began distributing to restaurants in Westchester and the East End of Long Island and opened stands in farmers markets, including the Riverhead Farmers Market. Using the same kind of blocks that woman was trying to get rid of, they continued to grow the mushrooms but realized they could really only get one harvest out of them.
“My sister’s place [in Mattituck] became a place where we really started to put a lot of them to inoculate her land,” she said. “As an experiment, we said let’s see how far this goes. We know these mushrooms grow in the wild out here already.” They couldn’t keep the blocks for secondary or tertiary growing in Brooklyn, but on the North Fork those blocks were doing just that.
“We noticed that throughout the winter, she was getting pounds and pounds every week, even in that cold environment,” Apparu-Hall said, who started growing the mushrooms there in January. “She was harvesting from all the used blocks throughout the winter — beautiful blue oyster mushrooms that were so rich, dense and flavorful, way nicer than the ones that were growing indoors [in Brooklyn] in a controlled environment.”
With the coronavirus shutting down restaurants and markets, where they would sell a lot of their mushrooms, Apparu-Hall and her team started looking for other places to sell.
“The discussion started opening — how do we still provide mushrooms to the customers?” she said. “And then a friend of my sister opened up the idea of selling at KK’s. Now, it’s our fourth week in collaboration with them, and it’s going really well.”
“We are looking into opening a grow room probably around Mattituck for year-round production, but right now outdoors is doing pretty well,” she said. “The beautiful thing is that we really saw how the North Fork actually has such a demand for the mushrooms.”