February 27, 2018
Mushroom farm flourishes in Southern Fauquier
The farm switched from shiitake to oyster mushrooms because of efficiency and a glut of the former.
Paul and Cindy Weon harvest 300 to 500 pounds of pearl oyster mushrooms a day most of the year and twice that in March and April.
It’s very labor-intensive and the cost to grow mushrooms is very high. Profit margin is not as much as someone thinks it is.
— Paul Woen
Won Shan Mushroom Farm
17-acre, family-owned business growing mushrooms without chemicals/pesticides.
Paul and Cindy Weon.
300 to 500 pounds per day; up to 1,000 pounds a day during peak season in March and April.
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Gently picked and packed by hand, mushrooms sprout from the Bristersburg couple’s labor and passion.
Each day, Paul Weon and his wife Cindy harvest 300 to 500 pounds of pearl oyster mushrooms at Won Shan (“Our Mountain”) Mushroom Farm in Southern Fauquier.
“For oyster mushrooms, the shelf life is very short so we have to maintain as fresh as we can,” said Mrs. Weon, 45.
“We try to keep our mushrooms less than three days and try to sell everything,” Mr. Weon, 49, added.
On this Wednesday morning in mid-February, they spend about 90 minutes picking mushrooms by hand.
During peak season in March and April, the couple will harvest about 1,000 pounds of mushrooms a day. They typically hire three seasonal employees to help during busiest months.
Mr. Weon works 60-hour weeks growing, picking, packaging and delivering the mushrooms to grocery stores and wholesale distributors in Northern Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
He took over the family business about six years ago, investing about half a million dollars to purchase the 17-acre farm from his father, Eung Sik Weon.
In the 1980s, Eung Sik emigrated from South Korea and pioneered growing shiitake mushrooms in the United States. He started the business in 1986 near Bristersburg.
In the beginning, the family grew all of its mushrooms in logs around the farm, but “it’s way too labor-intensive,” said Mr. Weon, who came to the U.S. at age 14.
“This location has lots of oak trees, which is good for these mushrooms to grow,” Mrs. Weon said.
About 25 years ago Mr. Weon graduated from Radford University with a bachelor’s degree in business marketing.
Back home, he improved his father’s growing process, experimenting in a greenhouse instead of outside in the elements.
“I had to do a lot of experiments to grow inside, because the turnaround is a lot faster than outside,” Mr. Weon explained.
He traveled to mushroom farms in Washington, Pennsylvania, South Korea and Japan to study the best techniques to grow in a greenhouse.
Unlike other growers, he uses no pesticides or fungicides.
“I really try to grow the healthiest mushroom possible,” Mr. Weon said. “I like to grow them how I like to eat them. If I can’t eat them myself, I don’t want to give them to someone else.”
He no longer grows shiitake mushrooms on the farm because of the cost and time it takes to grow them.
“Shiitake mushrooms are really competitive,” Mr. Weon said. “When we started, we were selling one pound for $6 to $10. Within a few years it went down to $4 a pound wholesale. The cost was going up, but the profit was dropping.”
He sticks to growing oyster mushrooms in two insulated greenhouses with fans to keep the air moist and the temperature around 60 degrees in the winter.
“Our mushrooms are very thick and chewy. They are more juicy,” Mrs. Weon said. “Other mushrooms are really thin and dry at the market.”
The process starts by filling black bags with cottonseed hull and soybean, mixed with 65 percent water and sterilized in an autoclave. Mr. Weon adds spawn, a living culture, made with mycelium to grow the mushrooms.
The 50-pound bags sit for about 21 days, until mushrooms start to pop out of the breathing holes. Then, Mr. Weon moves the bags to the greenhouse, where they grow for about 10 days.
In cooler weather, it takes about four weeks to grow the mushrooms. In the summer, it only takes seven days.
They sell the oyster mushrooms at retail for $5 per pound.
“It’s very labor-intensive and the cost to grow mushrooms is very high,” Mr. Weon said. “Profit margin is not as much as someone thinks it is.”
Mr. Weon can grow about 20 pounds of mushrooms per bag.
“I did a lot of experiments to get a lot of mushrooms from that one bag,” he said. “That took me about 25 years . . . . Thousands of hours and dollars went into it.”
Mushrooms get picked daily and refrigerated at 33 to 35 degrees.
“The initial drop in temperature is really important, because it slows down the process of mycelium. This is actually still alive,” said Mr. Weon, holding up a mushroom. “That way, when it goes to the market, it stays fresh.”
The Weon’s mushrooms can be found in a dozen Asian grocery stores.
“If stores would keep these below 45 degrees, you could keep them for two weeks,” Mr. Weon said.
Jennifer Choi comes to the farm from Haymarket about once a year to purchase fresh mushrooms.
“If I purchase from the store, most are coming from China. I didn’t like those,” Ms. Choi said. “I come here to buy the fresh ones.” They taste “much better and the flavor is really fresh.”
A repeat customer, she has come to the farm for about 15 years. Ms. Choi uses the mushrooms to make juice and sautés them with onion for meals.
Other customers deep fry mushrooms or eat them in soup or ravioli, Mrs. Weon said.
Mushrooms have several health benefits.
“Working at home and getting to spend more time with my kids and family,” ranks among the rewards of the job, Mr. Weon said. “We have a lot of customers that have health problems and they come back and tell us that it’s helping them.”
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BJ · March 1, 2018 at 9:23 am
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