Gary Wiltbank, Shiitake supplier for the Co-op.
Did you know that the Co-op has been supporting a local shiitake farmer for over ten years? Gary Wiltbank has provided the Co-op with fresh shiitakes for several years now, and recently he took the time to sit down with our GM Jodi to answer a few questions about his farm, and his contribution to the Co-op. Below is an interview style rundown of their conversation.
Where were you born and raised?
“I was born and Kingston, New York in 1960 and I grew up nearby in Saugerties.“
Why and how did you start your business?
“I always had an interest in farming since childhood, and as time moved on, I realized the “farm”. The “farms” I knew as a child are no longer profitable in a fast changing & competitive world. I was trained by a fascinating mushroom grower in Ohio in 2001 who had incredible instincts, and had passed on his amazing techniques on to me during the learning stage.”
What brought you to the Co-op?
“Searching out potential markets in the early years of the farm.”
What growing methods or standards of production do you apply concerning product that you sell to the Co-op.
“My growing practices are unique to my product, oyster and shiitake mushrooms. The high humidity environment is prime for all fungus, not only the species of choice, thus chlorine solutions are necessary for wash downs between growing cycles. Cleaning procedures however do not touch the growing product.”
“My current process utilizes pre-start shiitake grow loss, which consists of sterilized sawdust and grains pawn. At that stage they can be classified as organic. The loss I grow on are produced in SE PA, and are not the imparted loss from China, currently being used by many commercial growers based solely on pricing.”
" My oyster mushrooms are grown on predominantly rye straw which I produce myself, although oyster strains are very flexible and forgiving and can adopt to many substances. I grow in 2 grow rooms, 1 unheated and the primary room which is heated utilizing an outdoor wood boiler in colder months. My best growing times of the year are spring and fall, summer being the hardest as hot humid air encourages many competing molds which can destroy product.”
What plans do you have for your future?
“Hopefully be able to continue my current path in agriculture, I do believe there is a demand and interest in quality products, and good service. The key is up to me to maintain high standards and quality.”