Matt Ratliff uses his horticulture background to help manage his family farm, Fruits, Nuts and Vegetable Farms LLC in Fort Ripley MN, where he and his wife Chrissy raise non-GMO heirloom produce and fruit trees.
Mostly, however, the garden business has been taken over by demand for their gourmet mushrooms which they grow in about 6,000 square feet of enclosed space that includes a high tunnel and a passive solar, custom-engineered, bermed greenhouse. Matt says, "[The greenhouse] was originally set up to do aquaponics but has never grown a single plant. It's now turned into a mushroom kit production facility. Just for fun my wife put a potted tomato in there so we could actually say it grew something."
Their wholesale division, Ready-2-Fruit Mushrooms, produces and distributes mushroom kits and cultivation supplies nationwide "through a lot of major catalogs and retailers all over the place."
"Our goal," says Matt, "is to kind of have a sustainable model that other people can take and run with to amuse themselves."
Matt Ratliff explained, "We do all sorts of weird stuff out here. We have a few different ways we can grow each type of mushroom. Most people start with growing them on a log or inoculating a fresh cut log from a healthy tree. Once you go through the process of inoculating those logs they become a zone 2-hardy perennial."
Common varieties of mushrooms come in several strains, much as tomatoes do. Ratliff has 8 strains of shiitakes alone that he sells commercially, and he's working on about 16 strains total. He also has 16 varieties of oyster mushrooms.
Even with a background in horticulture it took a lot of trial and error to learn the best ways to cultivate mushrooms. "When we started eight years ago there was a lot of conflicting information out there...A lot of what we're taught about mushrooms only applies to about 3 different types--buttons, portobellos, and criminis [which Matt doesn't grow, as they require sterilized or pasteurized manure]."
"We took all the data we could find and tried it out on hundreds of logs until we narrowed it down to find out what is the absolute least amount of work we can do for the most amount of food over the longest period of time. Every spring we sit down and go 'Ok, this is our type of mushroom we're going to work on this year. We're going to do this at least 5 different ways.' So yeah, it's been trial and error and going with the limited data that was out there and kinda running with it."
Ready-2-Fruit mushroom kits are sold in area markets and co-ops, at events and farmers' markets, and online. A list of local retail outlets is available on the Ready-2-Fruit Mushrooms website. Matt also teaches mushroom cultivation classes and workshops. The next one is August 8th at Erickson’s Greenhouse in Brainerd, 6:00-8:30 PM. To sign up email firstname.lastname@example.org
You can learn more about mushrooms from Matt Ratliff in the full interview below: