Freshness key for state's largest mushroom farm

Published Wednesday, January 29, 2020
by Mike Coppock, Tulsa World

MIAMI, Okla. — Each morning, it’s a mad rush at J-M Farms. The staff has only 36 hours to get its mushrooms out to markets as far away as Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, to maintain their freshness.

Nearly 60% of the farm’s business is as a wholesaler to restaurants, the rest to retail markets. Walmart is its largest account. J-M supplies seven Walmart distribution centers, which in turn supply 80 retail stores.

To back up its pledge of freshness, J-M has a fleet of 20 trucks heading out toward all points of the compass from Miami, Oklahoma.

It is the largest commercial mushroom farm in Oklahoma, supplying fresh mushrooms to most of Oklahoma’s grocery stores, as well as those in neighboring states.

“We’re 100% fresh,” said Scott Engelbrecht, vice president of operations. “Our mushrooms are touched only one time when they are harvested.”

J-M Farms plants 2 acres of mushrooms every day and harvests 70,000 pounds a day every day of the year, except Christmas. Last year, more than 26 million pounds were harvested for markets.

Mushrooms are raised indoors in wooden trays 6 feet by 4 feet and stacked to 5 feet in height. The mushrooms are kept cold during the entire growth and harvest process to keep them as fresh as possible, Engelbrecht said.

One room may hold 250 beds of mushrooms producing upward of 35,000 pounds of brown mushrooms or 40,000 to 45,000 pounds of white mushrooms. The mushrooms take about 24 days to grow.

It takes 29 days, including a pasteurization process, to produce an ideal mushroom compost.

Humidity- and airflow-controlled rooms provide the heat necessary for mushroom production. Steam produces the humidity. Sanitation and air filtration also aid in preventing crop disease. Carbon dioxide levels in growing rooms is also monitored.

“Seventy-five percent of our crop are white button mushrooms,” Englebrecht said. “Brown mushrooms don’t yield as well.” The browns include portobello and cremini.

Compost for the mushrooms is made from wheat straw, poultry manure and cottonseed meal — agricultural byproducts from the local area.

Waste products, such as undersized mushrooms and stems, are used as a feed supplement at the Quapaw Tribe’s cattle operation. Waste products from the operation are also used as compost by local gardeners and farmers.

Besides the Miami facility, J-M operates six satellite farms in the area and employs 550 workers.

J-M Farms also recently broke ground on a 40,000-square-foot facility that will house six tunnels at the cost of $9 million. The facility will not use steam in creating heat but a natural air-flow heating system.

“We do believe that this will get an increase in yield and a better quality product,” Engelbrecht said.

 

J-M Farms built a new packing facility with six loading docks in 2015.

Virgil Jurgensmeyer began J-M Farms in 1979 with two business partners. An employee of Ralston Purina, his job was to set up mushroom farms for the firm from his base in central Missouri.

Jurgensmeyer decided that a smaller operation would satisfy local markets and the three zeroed in on Miami because it was in the center of an untapped mushroom market for 150 miles in every direction. Miami had the transportation and infrastructure for which they were looking.

They started their facility with only 40 employees. Virgil bought out his partners. When he retired, his sons Terry, Curtis and Pat took over operations of the firm. Engelbrecht was brought in as a partner just recently.

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