Just outside Makanda sits a small farm owned by the Hatfield family, who not only reside on the serene piece of land, but also have made a career there in fungiculture.
Established in 2008 in one of Southern Illinois’ most breathtaking locales, Flyway Family Farm is an idyllic place for a family living a sustainable lifestyle and creating a working farm.
A sparkling pond surrounded by green forest land full of mature trees sits near a well-established vegetable garden and orchards of fruit trees with beautiful blooms that return each spring. Hogs, ducks, goats and rabbits reside on the friendly farm, and provide a wholesome foundation of sustenance for the Hatfields.
It would not be immediately apparent to passersby that a well-thought-out mushroom operation is underway in the climate-controlled facility on the property, but Flyway Family Farm has become known for their year-round cultivation of gourmet mushrooms.
Michael, and his wife, Jessica, who live on the farm with daughter, Iris, and son, Oliver, have the experience and skills to succeed as growers of exotic mushrooms. The pair, who met after moving to Carbondale to attend Southern Illinois University, have both been avid gardeners throughout their adult lives.
“I always had big gardens. Even in school, I talked all of my landlords into letting me have big gardens, building chicken coops, and having chickens. I usually lived just outside of town and Jessica was doing the same thing,” Michael remembers.
Even with their backgrounds in hobby gardening and Michael’s forestry degree, the foray into mushroom farming didn’t happen overnight. Before purchasing the farm together, Michael began hunting morel mushrooms with a friend and learned that there was much to be discovered about the different varieties and flavors of edible mushrooms beyond the store-bought button mushrooms he never particularly cared for.
Through his research and outdoor adventures, Michael started educating himself on growing strategies for some of the varieties, and eventually met a local mushroom farmer that showed him how to begin growing shiitake mushrooms at home. After purchasing the farm in Makanda, Michael and Jessica slowly built more mushroom beds and eventually had 3,000 to 4,000 logs in the forested area of their land.
“When we first moved out here, I didn’t know that it would become a full-time job necessarily. We were, and still do live a sustainable life. We have horses, ducks, chickens, rabbits, usually a couple hogs, big gardens, and orchards. The mushrooms were a big part of it in the woods,” Michael says.
Due to the unpredictable weather in Southern Illinois, outdoor mushroom cultivation can be tricky, though. The Hatfields soon began researching indoor mushroom growing operations, which led to their current setup. Stores, markets and chefs rely on consistency of products, and the climate-controlled facility now in use at Flyway Family Farm allows the Hatfields to grow certain varieties all 12 months of the year to supply customers, restaurants and grocery stores with the items they desire.
Using sterilized sawdust mixes, Flyway Family Farm has a rather extensive roster of gourmet mushrooms that are grown year-round and offered for sale most of the time. These varieties include shiitake, chestnut, lion’s mane and several different types of oyster mushrooms.
Oyster mushrooms in general are popular for their delicate texture and savory flavor. Thin and either oyster-shaped or fan-shaped, the mild flavor of cooked oyster mushrooms make them delicious sautéed, stir-fried, or roasted, in sauces, pastas or risotto.
The pink oyster mushrooms cultivated by Flyway Family Farm are almost too beautiful to eat, displaying a vibrant pink ruffle of mushrooms that can look like a large flower. Pearl oyster mushrooms also live up to their moniker with a light white hue and a somewhat sweet flavor.
Golden oyster mushrooms are a stunner with bright yellow color and a tad more flavor than pearl oyster mushrooms. Unlike the pink, pearl and golden oyster mushrooms, blue oysters do not have a hue to match their name, and present with dark caps atop pale gills.
Lion’s mane mushrooms have a very distinct appearance, and true to their name, they are known for their globe shape full of long, shaggy spines. With a range of health benefits and a simultaneously sweet and savory flavor and meaty texture, the lion’s mane mushroom is a treat for consumers.
Chestnut mushrooms are a rich and beautifully colored mushroom with a distinct nutty flavor that makes it a favorite in brothy soups, creamy sauces, or simply fried with butter and garlic. The brown caps are a gorgeous color and the texture is something treasured when cooked.
Shiitake mushrooms have a distinct earthy, umami flavor and are used often in East Asian cuisines. The extremely healthful shiitake mushroom is also enjoyed fried, sautéed, or in stir fry and rice dishes.
Flyway Family Farm has a booth at the Carbondale Farmers Market and the farmers market in Urbana each week, and their products are also available via the online farmers market, LEAF Food Hub. The gourmet mushrooms are also sold at the Neighborhood Coop Grocery Store and Fresh Foods in Carbondale. The mushrooms can be added to CSA packages with several different farms in Illinois, most notably through All Seasons Farm in Cobden.
While Flyway Family Farm stays busy growing and selling fresh gourmet mushrooms year-round, they also offer interesting and unique homemade mushroom products, cultures and growing kits for anyone looking to try their hand at mushroom cultivation.
Mushroom tinctures, which the Hatfields make on-site at the farm, are extremely beneficial to overall health and are easy to use. Just one or two droppers of the tincture in coffee or tea provides numerous advantages.
“They have anti-inflammatory properties, they’re loaded with micro and macro nutrients, and they can have antihistamine properties. There’s a lot of evidence showing they are good for reducing tumor growth and cancers, and immune system support, too,” Michael says.
Mushroom jerky is another unique product created at Flyway Family Farm. The vegan snack made with oyster mushrooms under Illinois cottage food certifications is an addictive and toothsome treat sold at the markets and on LEAF Food Hub.
On the Flyway Family Farm website, customers can purchase both mushroom cultures as well as more established growing kits. The cultures, which are petri dishes of an isolated culture, are genetic material for other farms to use in their labs and expand upon. Michael mentioned that the cultures are intended for growers who have more advanced capabilities and on-site labs.
The growing kits sold by Flyway Family Farm are an extension of these cultures and are more suitable for mushroom enthusiasts looking to grow their own varieties at home without starting from the petri dish.
“The growing kits are the almost finished product that we grow the mushrooms off of. So the process of going from the petri dishes, as an isolated culture, then onto sterilized grain is basically like a transplant,” Michael says.
All of this work is done in a sterile lab environment with a laminar flow hood to ensure a superior product in both the cultures and the growing kits.
Another exciting development for Flyway Family Farm is the Makanda Mushroom Festival set for Sept. 25, 26 and 27 at Camp Manitowa Cedar Point in Makanda. The three-day event will provide ticket-holders with access to free workshops, live music, artist markets, kayaks and canoes, foraging hikes, and “mush more.” Mushroom enthusiasts old and new, from near and far, can participate in this lively festival in the Shawnee National Forest to celebrate and learn more about all things mushrooms.
The festival was originally set for April 2020, but with the COVID-19 pandemic and the state's stay-at-home order, the festival was moved to September. The Hatfields, although disappointed about the change in plans, have been able to live life fairly close to normal throughout the pandemic thanks in large part to the sustainable lifestyle they were already practicing. The pair have long enjoyed homemade baking and preparing homemade meals sourced from their gardens and livestock, but miss the social enjoyment of the farm.
“It’s definitely changed things a little bit. We have a pond we can fish in, we have horses we can play with. Lots of food to eat. I do miss not having people out to the farm. We have friends out most Sundays especially as it gets warmer. It’s not so much leaving the farm, but not having people come visit that is hard,” Michael says.
No matter the unique challenges that the current pandemic presents, Michael and Jessica are able to continue to grow and sell the exotic mushrooms varieties that residents across Illinois look forward to, while enjoying a life on a plentiful farm. Make sure to visit one of the many local retail establishments or markets to experience the gourmet adventure of Flyway Family Farm mushrooms for yourself.
Be the first to know
Get local news delivered to your inbox!