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Fungus Among Us: Wood Song Mushrooms Brings People Together

Fungus Among Us: Wood Song Mushrooms Brings People Together

By Collin Hall

Lin Conover is the founder of Wood Song Mushrooms. Her business has become successful enough for this to be her main gig, and she has become known around Cape May County as a person who brings people together with mushrooms.
Lin Conover is the founder of Wood Song Mushrooms. Her business has become successful enough for this to be her main gig, and she has become known around Cape May County as a person who brings people together with mushrooms.

Lin Conover, the founder of Wood Song Mushrooms, says that mushrooms are having a heyday. “They’re more popular in the wider consciousness than ever. There’s a wonder to them, they’re almost completely different than anything else on the planet,” she told the Herald during an interview on an especially rainy April day – conditions that she hopes will bring mushrooms to the surface in great abundance this spring.

Conover spent much of her professional life as a landscaper and has educated herself about all things fungus since 2016, when she first learned how to grow mushrooms on a toilet paper roll. A fungus is a saprophyte, which means it feeds on dead or decaying material. Toilet paper is made of organic wood pulp, and when the whole roll is dampened, the soft stripes of paper begin to decay, and the thin space between each wet fold allows fungus to thrive.

At that point Conover began growing mushrooms in earnest. She showed her toilet-paper mushroom yield to a friend, amazed by what was able to prosper in such simple conditions. Her friend was grossed out, but Conover was hooked.

“And I just kept going and kept growing, and learning about these amazing organisms,” she said.

Her company, Wood Song Mushrooms, is focused on the growth and sale of local mushrooms, and on spreading awareness of fungus across Cape May County. Most of her free mushroom informational classes, where eager locals learn how to grow edible mushrooms at home, hit their capacity shortly after reservations are available.

Conover volunteers much of her time this way because she finds community in these amazing organisms. “I love it when people come up to me and show me the mushrooms they found or grow. That’s sharing the excitement of it,” she said.

Her mushroom production has scaled up greatly since her toilet paper days, but her operation, still run out of her own property, remains modest in size. She has an indoor greenhouse-style space with racks of fruiting mushroom blocks, densely packed squares of sawdust that mycelium, the underlying network of fungal threads from which mushrooms sprout, has already overtaken.

These blocks, which she sources from Noble Mushrooms in Hillsborough Township, are the starting point for her mushroom growth. From these, she grows many species of ‘shroom, but the most popular among her customers are the Oyster, Lion’s Mane and Black Pearl King varieties.

Oyster mushrooms, she says, are “a meaty cap-and-stem mushroom with a mild flavor. You see a lot of those sold commercially.” They are a common meat substitute in vegan recipes; their mild flavor means that they easily take on the flavor profile of what they are cooked in. They retain a hardy texture even when cooked – no mushy ‘shrooms here.

Lion’s Mane mushrooms “don’t look like mushrooms at all,” Conover said. These ball-shaped ‘shrooms have long tendrils that droop down in a fashion not dissimilar to a weeping willow tree. These are easy to pull apart with a fork. Editor’s note: these make a great substitute for pork in a pulled-pork sandwich. Just make pulled pork as you usually would, but use pulled-apart Lion’s Mane instead of meat.

Black Pearl King mushrooms are firm and marked primarily by a thick stem, like the trunk of a tree. This species is related to the King Trumpet but is not as dense. Their intense, black caps give them a distinct look.

Conover said that her favorite variety of mushroom is the Chestnut mushroom. “These have a ‘snap’ texture when you bite into them, like an asparagus,” she said.

She sells these and others to customers across South Jersey, and directly to restaurants like Beach Plum Farm in West Cape May and Maison Bleue, Taco Caballito, Cape May Grilled Cheese, and Primal in Cape May.

But mushrooms are for everyone, and not just for fancy dinners. Fungus are among the most abundant organisms on the earth, and the variety of mushrooms that flower reflects this abundance. “But there’s so much we don’t know about them,” she said.

Mushrooms are a versatile cooking ingredient. They are a low-calorie source of vitamins and make a great meat substitute. They vary greatly in taste and texture; many people have only tried one or two varieties.

Conover stressed that it’s easy to start growing your own mushrooms at home. She has spent years tinkering with the conditions in her growing space – moisture, light, airflow – to grow many species in bulk. But getting started at home is as simple as buying a grow kit, she said.

She has dedicated more and more of her life to mushrooms, and to her business. She is working to create a home base for Wood Song Mushrooms, which operates primarily online and through in-person classes at venues across the county.

“Learning about mushrooms connects people to the place they live and the interconnectedness of all the organisms on the earth. It’s like a movement,” she said.

Find Wood Song Mushrooms online via its Instagram @woodsongmushrooms

Content Marketing Coordinator / Reporter

Collin Hall grew up in Cape May County and works as a content manager for Do The Shore, as well as a reporter. He currently lives in Villas.

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