The next time you bite into an exotic mushroom, don’t assume it came from far away. It may have been grown in Peekskill by the Westchester Mushroom Company.
When you pass a warehouse, you may wonder what’s inside—a shipment of clothing? Boxes of merch people ordered online? Mushrooms are probably the last thing you’d imagine, but if you’re traveling through Peekskill, it’s a good guess. That’s where the Westchester Mushroom Company, the county’s first indoor mushroom farm, coaxes strains of the vegetable you don’t usually see around this part of the country.
Most of the crop goes to restaurants and the 10 locations of the upscale DeCicco & Sons grocery store chain. But the company also offers a small subscription service for those who can drop by their Peekskill headquarters or drive to Fable Farms in Ossining for pick-up. (To sign up, visit westchestermushrooms.com.)
It took three people to make the indoor growing process feasible, says CEO and co-founder Austin Schatz. He and his two other co-founders, Jonathan Vantman and Benny Liu, met while working at Fable Farms, which produces eggs and vegetables. Together, they decided to give mushroom growing a go. “There were a few reasons—unmet demand being one of them,” says Schatz. “We wanted to start a farm, but finding the right crop can be tricky, especially in the northeast where our growing season is much shorter than other parts of the country. Mushrooms can be grown indoors, allowing us to produce year-round.”
The trio rented a tiny warehouse in Buchanan in 2021. After experimenting with growing techniques, they moved to their current 1,200-foot location and this past January the company was born. Today, nestled in sawdust and basking in LED light, exotic spores flourish. Among them is the rare, sought-after lion’s mane. “It has a subtle, sweet flavor and an interesting crabmeat-like texture,” says Schatz.
Pioppinos are also popular with customers. They’re striking, with long necks and small brown caps, and have an earthy flavor. More delicate are the flower-shaped oyster mushrooms. “They have a lightly umami quality,” says Schatz. And while you may have had this kind of mushroom before, you’ve probably never seen some of the varieties cultivated here. In summer, the team grows an oyster mushroom that’s native to parts of Indonesia and has a mesmerizing, glowing pink hue. During winter, blue oyster mushrooms thrive. “Their color is deep and beautiful. People love having that diversity,” says Schatz.
Both local restaurateurs and customers love how the mushrooms elevate a meal. Yet Schatz says their ambitions go beyond farming. “We are thinking about how to provide educational opportunities for the community, products for individuals who want to grow mushrooms at home, and online content about cooking specialty mushrooms,” he explains.
Schatz stands behind their mission to make this often-overlooked veggie the star of the plate. “If you’re eating a store-bought mushroom that was harvested weeks ago and shipped hundreds of miles, it’s not going to be high quality. Fresh ones have subtle, unique differences that a mushroom lover’s palate can detect right away,” explains Schatz.
After sharing the dirt on his business, Schatz offers a hint of the delicacies to come. “One may be reishi, which can only be grown in temperatures over 80 degrees. We’ll likely wait until mid-summer to grow it,” he shares. “We’re excited to try all of the specialty varieties that can be grown commercially,” he says. “It’s just a matter of time.”