Steven Bell calls 5th Kingdom an “ultra-urban” farm. The crop is mushrooms, grown in a loft in Atlanta’s West End neighborhood. Surrounded by metal workers on one side, artists on the other, the mushrooms don’t disturb their neighbors and their neighbors don’t disturb them.
The mushroom growing space is a room kept between 68 and 72 degrees. There, 75-pound bags filled with a mixture of wheat straw and cotton seed hulls are suspended from custom-made racks. The moisture level is high, and the light comes from the overhead fluorescents and windows at the ceiling. There are 150 bags in production at any time. Each week, those bags produce about 150 pounds of mushrooms, or about one pound of mushrooms per bag. Bell has plans to soon double that yield.
While the primary crop is silver oyster mushrooms, he also grows king oyster mushrooms, Lion’s mane mushrooms, shitake, hen of the woods, enoki and pioppino mushrooms. He and production manager Kevin Frazier can be found selling whatever varieties are currently in production at the Green Market at Piedmont Park, the Decatur Farmers Market and the Marietta Square Farmers Market. They’ll add more locations as seasonal farmers markets open for the year.
5th Kingdom’s mushrooms can also be found at local groceries like Sevananda and Savi Urban Market in Inman Park and Little’s Food Store in Cabbagetown, as well as on the menu of many Atlanta area restaurants.
Mushrooms seem to be pretty commonplace, but education is still a part of Bell’s job. Some customers just don’t know how to prepare them. “We tell them to start with something simple like a basic saute – oil or butter, a little salt, medium low heat. Take them off the heat when the mushrooms are browned on both sides. Once they try them plain, then they can try them in omelets or put them on pizza,” he said.
Others come by the booth and say the mushrooms are too pretty to eat. Oyster mushrooms in particular come in a range of pastel colors. “All the different colors of oyster mushrooms taste different. The pink oyster mushroom can stand in for bacon; its flavor is that meaty. Cook the mushrooms until they’re crisp. They’re much better than any of those vegetarian bacon substitutes,” said Bell.
He’ll have pink oyster mushrooms available from mid-April until fall, and golden oyster mushrooms as well.
Oyster mushrooms shouldn’t be peeled or washed. Just dust them gently with a brush or cloth. Cut off the lower part of the stem if it’s discolored or still has bits of straw attached.
Because they’re so tender, oyster mushrooms can be cooked whole, or cut or torn into strips. Like all mushrooms, they have lots of moisture, so they’ll reduce down when cooked.
At local farmers markets
Farmers market openings:
4 – 8 p.m. Thursday, April 4, Tucker Farmers Market, Tucker. www.tuckerfarmersmarket.com
8:30 a.m. – noon Saturday, April 6. Peachtree Road Farmers Market, Atlanta. www.peachtreeroadfarmersmarket.com
4:30 – 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 10. Farmers Atlanta Road Market, Smyrna. www.farmersatlantaroadmarket.org
The first farmers market cooking demo of the season will be at 11 a.m. Saturday March 28. Chef Tyler Williams of Woodfire Grill. Green Market at Piedmont Park, Atlanta. www.piedmontpark.org
Vegetables: arugula, Asian greens, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celery, chard, collards, dandelion, endive, escarole, fennel, frisee, green garlic, green onions, herbs, kale, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, mustard greens, potatoes, radishes, sorrel, spinach, sweet potatoes, turnips, winter squash
From local reports
Rosebud’s Oyster Mushroom Creamed Cabbage
Hands on: 15 minutes
Total time: 50 minutes
Makes: 10 cups
Ron Eyester, chef and owner of Rosebud and Family Dog, created this recipe for a demonstration at the Morningside Farmers Market. He’ll be back on Saturday, April 4, to start off the 2013 chef demo season at the market. His featured ingredient? Strawberries.
1 cup bacon, cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 6 slices)
2 cups sliced oyster mushrooms (about 1/2 pound)
1 cup 1/4-inch diced shallots (about 1 large shallot)
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 teaspoon caraway seed
16 cups julienned cabbage (about 3 pounds)
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 cup chopped pecans
3 cups heavy cream
1 cup grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper
In a large saucepan, cook bacon over medium-high heat until crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove cooked bacon, drain and set aside.
Add mushrooms and shallots to the fat in the saucepan and saute 3 minutes. Add garlic, chile flakes and caraway seeds and saute 3 minutes. Stir in cabbage and continue to cook until cabbage has wilted and is tender, about 30 minutes. Add vinegar, pecans and reserved bacon. Combine thoroughly, then add cream and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in Parmesan, season to taste and serve.
Per 1/2-cup serving: 215 calories (percent of calories from fat, 78), 5 grams protein, 7 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 20 grams fat (10 grams saturated), 54 milligrams cholesterol, 134 milligrams sodium.