We are Doug and Sondra Williams. Doug is the one with the dream of raising shiitakes and I am Sondra, primarily a writer and speaker, a theatre artist -- and the practical one.
Doug is a man who thrives at the foundation levels of life. By trade he is a stone mason, working with earth, minerals, and stone. He started hunting wild
mushrooms when he was in his 20s, and eventually he joined a mycological society and learned how to identify different species and find them each
He had a dream: To grow something in a greenhouse, something that helps people, is not harmful to the environment, and requires a low level of technology. But he didn't know what that something was.
One spring he gave wild morel mushrooms to our neighbor Dorothy, who was a master gardener. She gave him an upscale gardening magazine with an article about growing shiitakes in your backyard for fun and profit, written by Paul Goland, considered by many to be The Father of Shiitake in the US.
"My mind lit up like a Christmas tree," Doug says. He ordered two bags of spawn from Paul, cut forty small logs from our acreage, and we inoculated them in our kitchen. Using a carpenter's drill, each log took forty minutes: drill the holes, put in the spawn, and seal the holes with wax. That was 1986.
We tried several 'easier' inoculation methods, but always came back to this tried and true way. We bought a shiitake drill and inoculation tools and put up two large greenhouses. Now we can drill and inoculate a log in about five minutes. (there are drilling machines that drill a log in less than a minute - to high tech for us!) Our farm went from 40 logs to 200, to 2,000. At our peak we had 6,000 logs in greenhouses and growing outside under trees and shade cloth.
We were full-fledged fungus farmers. Doug was a natural - his shiitakes were so beautiful that our chefs said over and over, "I've never seen shiitakes like this." We developed our log kit to share the experience with other people and support our farm in the winter months.
Meeting other mushroom lovers and other shiitake growers has been one of the greatest joys. They are some of the nicest people we have ever known. We've loved meeting fungiphiles, people who love mushrooms, at craft or home and garden shows where we sold our logs. We've heard amazing stories about mushroom hunting and learned new ways to cook our favorite food. We met people who lost loved ones to poison mushrooms and people who have been cured by the healing power of mushrooms.
People like to watch things grow and to give them that opportunity, especially with something that's good for you and good to the environment … that's a good thing to be doing.