MINERAL SPRINGS, NC – When Nasi Goudes and Teri Wood inherited Sharonview Farm, they weren’t really sure what to do with so much land. “We actually googled ‘farms’ to see what to do with it,” laughs Nasi.
Nasi inherited the 62-acre farm from his father, who bought it in the 60s. “He had gone through World War II in Greece, and when he got out of there, he started buying properties,” says Nasi. “Every time some property was available around here, he bought some more. That’s what kept the family alive in Greece. They had a 150-acre farm there, and so he said, you always have something somewhere to live, and you always have something to eat.”
Nasi took over management of the farm in 2006 when his father turned 85, and when his dad passed away, Nasi and his five brothers and sisters split the nearly 600 acres he had amassed. To learn more about farming, Nasi – a mechanic, service manager and car dealer – and Teri – a quality assurance manager and auditor – embarked on a 49-state journey through the Harvest Host program.
“My dad had it as a hobby farm,” says Nasi. “He had his property investment, and he was in the restaurant business. We didn’t know what to do with it, so we did 49 states in our camper through Harvest Hosts to see what other farmers were doing with their farms.”
Much of Nasi and Teri’s property is wooded, which naturally nudged them into the forestry program, but growing trees like pine and oak for timber can take half a century to pay off. So what were Nasi and Teri to do with their inherited farmland in the meantime?
The answer was mushrooms. “I heard about this program through NC State where forestry farmers can use their non-value-added wood instead of thinning and getting rid of it or letting it rot,” says Master Gardener Teri. “We take the waste products – crooked and crowded trees, sweet gums or other species that aren’t good for timber – and grow mushrooms,” adds Nasi.
If you’ve ever walked around your yard after a rainstorm, you might think growing mushrooms is a cinch, but it’s actually a long and laborious process that starts in the winter. “We cut the trees in December because when the leaves come off the trees naturally the sugars go from the leaves into the trunk, and you get higher yields,” says Nasi, who admits that cutting in cooler weather is an added bonus.
After they’re cut down, the trees have to sit for a minimum of two weeks. “I usually let them sit for 30 days,” says Nasi. “There are enzymes in the trees that defend them from mushrooms – that’s why you don’t see mushrooms growing on live trees – but those enzymes will break down after about two weeks. If I colonize a log that was recently cut, it would kill the spores that we put in.”
Next, Nasi uses a high-speed drill to make holes every three to six inches all around the logs and then uses a Japanese tool to inject mushroom spawn and plug the hole with styrofoam. Throughout the winter and early spring, Nasi drills and fills tens of thousands of holes, colonizing up to a thousand logs. Then, he waits. “When we inoculate logs, it might be a year or two before we get the mushrooms to appear,” says Nasi, “because it takes that long for the roots to grow into the solid logs.”
Nasi uses a forklift to transport the inoculated logs to the woods, where he makes low, split-rail stacks. It turns out the pine forest is an ideal environment for growing mushrooms. “There’s a thick layer of pine needles that keeps it moist and shaded all year round,” says Nasi, “but also the acid in the pine needles repels indigenous mushrooms,” he continues. “We don’t have many predators; raccoons, possum, and deer don’t like the mushrooms. A lot of the bugs and slugs do; that’s the biggest trouble I have, but they don’t like the pine needles, so that works good, and then the pine needles keep all the weeds down, so I don’t have to weed.”
When it comes to growing mushrooms, there is one thing that is just like growing them in your yard: when they’re ready to grow, they pop up fast. “They’re not there one night, and they’re there by the next,” says Nasi. “We have to visit them frequently because they’re unpredictable. By day two, they’re the size of a golf ball, by day three or four they’re ready to pick. They’ll grow for weeks if we let them,” Nasi continues. “Some of them get big enough that we can turn them upside down, put tomato sauce and peppers on them and make a pizza! But what they do after they get really big is called ‘saddling;’ they’ll turn inside out, and they’ll split. They’re still tender and delicious, but people look for that traditional mushroom shape, so we pick them about the third or fourth day.”
There are quicker and easier methods of growing mushrooms, namely using sawdust or wood chips as a substrate, but they have their drawbacks as well. Sawdust and woodchips are quicker and more predictable; they’ll produce mushrooms about 30 days after they’re colonized. However, both are “single-use” whereas inoculated logs can produce mushrooms for 5-10 years. Sawdust and woodchips also need to be pasteurized to eliminate any contaminants that might interfere with the mushrooms. “Economically it makes more sense to use logs,” says Nasi. “It’s a lot less labor, and you get a lot more mushrooms out of it in the long run.”
Nasi and Teri grow predominantly “snowcap” shiitake mushrooms, which they’ve found are both well-suited to the climate here in NC and profitable at the market. “It has a recognizable shape; it’s a little round dome, like if a fifth-grader drew a mushroom,” says Nasi. “We’ve tried all kinds of weird and exotic stuff, but it’s either not right for the climate, or the people in the market don’t recognize it and don’t want to buy it, so we’re down to 90% shiitake snowcap variety.”
Nasi and Teri are at the Waxhaw Farmers Market year-round. You’ll find them there with fresh and dried mushrooms in the spring and the fall. Eager to be at the market every week, Teri rounds out the seasons when they don’t have mushrooms available with fresh flowers, plants she propagates from seed, and gourd art.
Nasi and Teri are also part of the Harvest Host program, the same organization through which they traveled to 49 different states back when they inherited the farm. For an annual fee, Harvest Host members get access to thousands of farms nationwide. “You get to stay free in your camper overnight,” says Nasi. “Presumably you’re buying their products or enjoying their services.” Some campers even take home an inoculated log, which Nasi and Teri sell for .50 a hole.
With the Waxhaw Farmer Market and the Harvest Host program, business is booming for Nasi and Teri. “Despite COVID, we had a record year at the farmers market last year,” says Nasi. “Last year was the first year we opened our campground for guests to come, and we had 127 campers; we’ve almost had that many this year, and it’s just April.”
Despite their uncertainty when they first inherited the farm, Nasi and Teri have found their groove with mushrooms. “This mushroom thing has been our niche at the market,” says Teri, “and we’re the only mushroom farm in the Harvest Host program.” You can find Sharonview Farm at the Waxhaw Farmers Market weekly or reach them by phone at (704) 238-9076 (farm landline) or (843) 446-5424 (text/mobile). In addition to fresh and dried mushrooms, they also offer tours and sell inoculated logs.