You might not think the mushroom is anything special, but to Brittany Rantala-Sykes and her partner, Ivan Vincent, it is an exquisite masterpiece.
Mushrooms are a great source of Vitamin D, among other medicinal benefits. Most importantly for the partners, though, the fungi is their livelihood.
The duo, who hail from Sudbury, own The Ugly Barn Farm in the Markstay area, on Ratter Lake Road.
They registered the farm in 2015, constructed a mushroom growing operation complete with misters and vertical growing structures and started serving customers at the local farmer’s markets in 2018.
Rantala-Sykes said her husband really started the farm after a mining layoff, years of research and a couple grow-your-own-mushroom kits.
“Ivan also took business courses, wrote grants to obtain (Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation) funding and even took microbiology courses to get lab experience and really understand fungi at its core,” Rantala-Sykes said.
After two maternity leaves during the pandemic and consuming quite a few mushrooms, Brittany has gotten the mushroom bug, too.
“With limited childcare options during the pandemic, I decided to launch myself into the mushroom business and I don’t regret it one bit,” she said.
With more than 21 varieties growing at the 50-acre farm, most of the mushrooms are fruited vertically on shelves in what are called “temple garages”. Some need eight weeks to harvest and others, like the shitake, need double the time.
Each mushroom essentially begins its life journey on a petri dish.
The farm offers mushroom medleys with about six or seven varieties in each pack. There are some seasonal mushrooms like pink oysters that are only available at certain times of the year.
Right now, the cold-loving mushrooms are in full yield with enoki, beech, white oyster and pearl oyster on the menu.
Rantala-Sykes does cook mushrooms for meals on her cast iron pan with flavourless grapeseed oil a couple times per week.
In the winter, there is more of a surplus of mushrooms and she adds that they are a great plant-based source of vitamin D during the dark season.
Her favourite dishes are omelettes, ramen, and a pasta dish with a vegan cashew cream sauce.
She usually dresses the fungi up with onions, garlic and a dash of salt and pepper.
“One of my favourite recipes is a mushroom bruschetta,” Rantala-Sykes said. “I am fortunate to be able to get great sourdough bread from working the market each week. I dress it up with cream cheese or goat cheese and top it with sauteed mushrooms.”
There is a section of The Ugly Barn Farm website dedicated to recipes that have been tried, tested and approved by the couple.
The couple also has a Health Canada licence to produce medicinal mushrooms and tinctures. These items are sold to Seasons Pharmacy and Culinaria, the Farmer’s Market and a northern online farmer’s market called Click Fork.
The Ugly Barn Farm has a few plans in store for later this year and into next year.
They will be investing in some new equipment to produce larger batches of mushrooms.
Brittany and Ivan also plan to set up a farm store on-site in the fall in Markstay.
Customers can continue to schedule pick ups, visit the website or the local Farmer’s Market or Click Fork’s online market for a wide selection of mushrooms and mushroom products.
Anastasia Rioux is a writer in Greater Sudbury. Let’s eat! is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.