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Meet the Mushroom Farmer

By: Lodge Cast Iron / June 12, 2023

Not all mushrooms are created equal. We sat down with Pledger Schaefer, co-founder of Midway Mushrooms, to learn more about the kinds of mushrooms he wishes more people knew about, and why cooking with local products makes such a big difference.

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Pledger Schaefer, Midway Mushrooms in Sewanee, TN 

Pledger Schaefer and his friends, Daniel and Adam, had always liked the idea of starting a mushroom farm together. Feeling dissatisfied in their careers, they finally decided to go for it in 2020. “Midway Mushrooms is now one of the larger farms in the region,” says Pledger, “we produce around 1,000 pounds of mushrooms a week, distributing them to nearby cities like Chattanooga, Nashville, and Huntsville.” 

For Pledger, locality is part of what makes mushroom farming special. Midway Mushrooms is located on a 5 acre farm that also houses a community garden. “A lot of our stuff is very local,” he notes. “Two of our biggest pieces of equipment came from a metal shop six miles away and our sterilization barrels came from Knoxville.” Plus, fresh mushrooms don’t ship very well, which encourages local distribution at farmers’ markets and local restaurants.   

Pledger Midway Mushrooms

How are mushrooms grown? 

Mushrooms are grown in breathable polypropylene bags that are designed for cultivation. Each bag is filled with a mixture of sawdust and soybean hull that have combined in a big mixer to create just the right moisture content. After adding the mixture to the bags, they’re added to a barrel for pasteurization. This takes care of all competitor organisms that might inhibit the growth of mushrooms. Then they cool down for two days before they’re inoculated in the lab. The grain spawn mixture, which is like mushroom seeds, is added to the bag and evenly distributed. Then, it’s time for some magic. Well, not magic—just the precise management of the temperature, humidity, and carbon dioxide in the lab. Get the environment right and then the mushrooms just start to grow! 

Where can I buy great mushrooms? 

Look for mushroom farmers in your area! They often sell varieties that can’t be found in the grocery store. If you can’t find mushrooms locally, you can grow your own. You can buy grow kits from the Midway Mushrooms website or through local mushroom farmers in your area. “We want people to be able to experience the joy of fruiting a mushroom and watching it grow. That’s a process that you can only see for yourself if you grow them yourself,” says Pledger. Check out a few of his favorites and add them to your menu for this week. 

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Classic Oyster 

Oyster mushrooms are fairly mild and deliver a subtle anise flavor to your dishes. They’re great as a side dish—seared with butter and garlic, of course! But they can also be added to pastas, stir fries, and salads, or battered and fried like chicken. 

Lion’s Mane 

Lion’s mane mushrooms bring a mildly sweet flavor to your cooking. Plus, their texture is similar to crab or lobster, making them a great seafood substitute in dishes like sushi, crab cakes, and lobster mac and cheese. 


Shiitake mushrooms have a rich, earthy flavor and meaty texture that make them a great meat substitute. They’re the perfect mushroom to add to your grocery list if you want a fun creative challenge in the kitchen. You can use them in your favorite curry recipes, your go-to ragu, or topped on homemade pizza. 

Get started with these mushroom recipes! 
Contributed By: Lodge Cast Iron

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