Raven’s Wind Farm: Toledo Couple Grows Mushrooms for Culinary, Health Benefits

By Carrina Stanton / For the Chronicle

Rainy Karnes and Robert Zozaya have been perfecting their mushroom growing techniques together for 12 years.

But the inspiration for the co-owners of Raven’s Wind Farm to market their mushrooms to the public came from the unlikely source of the COVID-19 pandemic. The couple got fired from work and decided to see the extra time in their Toledo home as an opportunity to do what they previously didn’t have time to do.

“We thought, ‘Okay, we’ll do this,’” recalls Robert.

And the leap of faith seems to have paid off. Raven’s Wind Farm mushrooms have featured on the menus of local restaurants such as Boccata in Centralia and McFiler’s, Mackinaw’s and Jeremy’s Farm to Table in Chehalis. Shoppers at the Toledo Thursday Market, the Community Farmers Market in Chehalis, and the Centralia Farmers Market are also grabbing gourmet foods like lion’s mane, pink oyster, and wine cap.

“It’s amazing,” said Rainy of the growing popularity of her products.

For the last 16 years Rainy and Robert have said that they have always been interested in living off the land. They breed goats (including the name giver of the farm, a black goat named Raven), quails, ducks and chickens, as well as a variety of medicinal and culinary herbs and vegetables. Rainy uses goat milk to make personal care products and the milk is also used to make cheese.

“We both love the outdoors and wanted to live more sustainable lives and live off the land as much as possible,” said Rainy.

Her interest in growing her own mushrooms was part of her passion for a sustainable lifestyle. Rainy, who grew up in a house where she learned to use herbs in both cooking and medicine, said mushrooms are valued not only for their taste but also for their health benefits. In addition to being a source of protein, fiber, and antioxidants, Rainy says, mushrooms are widely used for medicinal purposes in places like China. As the West has been slower to see the benefits, people are beginning to assert themselves. Some mushrooms that are used in common nutritional supplements are: lion’s mane for better brain function; blue oyster to lower cholesterol and high blood pressure; and Maitake for anti-cancer benefits.

“We wanted to grow them because they are delicious, but we also wanted to educate people about their health benefits,” said Rainy.

When they started growing mushrooms together, the couple actually used a closet for their mushroom growing room. Today, the growing business takes up much of the kitchen, dining room and garage of their Toledo home, where they have lived for four years.

Growing mushrooms is a multi-step process that takes a month or more to produce harvestable mushrooms. The process begins with special grow bags filled with a nutrient medium made from wood chips and soy, as well as a “secret formula” made from all-natural, organic material that the couple developed to complement the commercial medium. Filled pouches must be sterilized for two hours. Currently, the sterilization is carried out with two pressure cans, which can sterilize two bags at the same time. So if you are lucky you can prepare 14 bags of mushroom medium for inoculation in a day. One recent afternoon a friend of the Kevin Hawk family from Vancouver was on the farm to help weld a pressurized can system that can hold up to 56 bags at a time, greatly reducing sterilization time.

Once the sterilized bags have cooled for about a day, they can be inoculated with the spores that cause the fungi to grow. After inoculation, the bags must be left in the dark for two to four weeks to allow the white, thread-like mycelium to grow in the bag. When the growing mushrooms begin to bulge against the walls of the bag, the block is placed in a temperature and humidity controlled growing room to allow the mushrooms to mature. Every now and then, fans start to exchange fresh air in the plastic room, because the mushrooms release carbon monoxide as they grow, which is neither good for the farmers nor the mushrooms.

It takes about two weeks in the grow room for a bag to have “fruit” and you can often cut off the first batch and more will grow. Some sachets produce up to 4 pounds of mushrooms. However, to keep up with current demand, the couple have to make sacks of mushrooms almost every day.

Toledo Market Fresh was the first local outlet to sell their mushrooms. When they intensified their mushroom cultivation last summer, Rainy and Robert initially used wood pellets for pellet stoves as the basis of their growth medium. The Toledo Market Fresh manager noticed how many sacks of pellets were going through them and eventually asked them what they were doing with them.

“He said, ‘Oh, I would sell your mushrooms,'” recalls Robert.

For many Americans, their experience with mushrooms has seldom moved away from button-style varieties. The couple initially said they were hesitant to buy some of the more exotic strains like the puffball-like lion’s mane. So, in addition to their mushrooms, they started offering recipes in the store. The online shop on their website also offers recipes for different types of mushrooms.

“We wanted to tell people, ‘Don’t be afraid. Open up to something new and you’ll like it, ”said Rainy.

In addition to mushrooms, Raven’s Wind Farm also sells mushroom growing kits and used mushroom media for the compost. Rainy also sells her personal care products in most of the places you can find her mushrooms. The business has grown so much that Zozaya’s son Braidin Zozaya and Braidin’s girlfriend Karen Gonzalez, a seamstress who also sells handbags and hats through her A String Fling business, joined Raven’s Wind Farm in April. Their goal is to grow their business enough that they can afford to move their mushroom growing operations from home to a couple of outbuildings that would include a clean room laboratory for mushroom vaccination.

But they also hope to do more than just grow mushrooms. Robert said they hope the farm will grow enough to create more jobs in the area. They also plan to add some small huts and a communal kitchen to their Toledo property that could be used by farm workers as well as visitors. Aside from farming, both Rainy and Robert are artists and envision creating a safe, creative space on the farm where people can learn, connect and grow together.

“Our main focus and goal is to build a community and give something back to the community,” said Robert.

“We want people to come here, work and enjoy the area,” added Rainy.

More information

Connect with Raven’s Wind Farm online at ravenswindfarm.org (mushroom and personal care products available for purchase) or @farmravenswind on Instagram.
Products can also be purchased from Toledo Market Fresh; via LocalLine for collection at the Toledo Thursday Market or the Community Farmers Market in Chehalis; personally once a month at the Toledo Thursday market; in person at Centralia Farmers Market; and soon in person at the Community Farmers Market in Chehalis through a dealer.

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