story by Jill Engledow
photo by Monte Costa
Rocky Chenelle happily admits that he’s never seen another mushroom farm and has no idea how other people grow mushrooms. Perhaps that’s why he’s been able to come up with such innovative ideas for Makawao Mushrooms, the Upcountry Maui operation he designed from scratch.
When the former engineer and his wife, Paulette, moved to Maui from California in 2000, he wasn’t sure what to do next. Then a biochemist friend mentioned that mushrooms would grow nicely in bagasse, the strawlike waste of sugar cane processing produced by the ton at Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co.’s mill in Pu‘unene.
But Rocky knew nothing of mushrooms, so he immersed himself in research, flew to San Francisco for a class on edible fungi and then put his engineering skills to work. The Chenelles remodeled an old milking barn in a Makawao pasture and built a mixer/sterilizer (fueled by waste oil they collect from the restaurants that buy their mushrooms). A solar-powered pump circulates water from a catchment system; some of it cools the system, some of it is solar-heated for cleaning. “We are almost a perfect recycler,” Rocky says as he leads a tour of the farm. “We start with a byproduct of an industry, we create a food product and our only byproduct is compost for more food products.”
Rocky adds oyster mushroom spores to plastic bags filled with a mixture of bagasse and sawdust. The bags then hang in a dark incubation room for two weeks while the mycelium, the vegetative network from which mushrooms sprout, develops. When the mycelium is established, clusters of delicate, cream-colored mushrooms pop through tiny holes in the bags; they’re then moved to a well-lit growing room and finally to an open-air room. “By the time we are finished, these bags have fruited ten times,” Rocky says—six times more than most mushroom farms. The farm sells 40 pounds a day to fine-dining restaurants like Roy’s and Hali‘imaile General Store and to shoppers at Mana Foods, Honolua Store, Paradise Market and Ilocandia Filipino Market (oyster mushrooms are big in Filipino cuisine).
The mushrooms keep coming after the discarded substrate is recycled as garden mulch—thicker, darker and chewier but just as edible as their more delicate indoor predecessors. HH