Categorized | Agriculture, Featured, News

Discover specialty mushroom in Hamakua


Stanga serving visitors a special mushroom recipe (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Roya Sabri)

Stanga serving visitors a special mushroom recipe (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Roya Sabri)

Roya Sabri | Hawaii 24/7 Reporter

Hamakua Mushrooms celebrated its 10-year anniversary this past February. The celebration is continuing with the announcement of the farm’s new tours.

When driving to Hamakua Mushrooms, visitors find the address on a mailbox and continue up a narrow dirt road toward a green signless building.

Bob Stanga, the owner and president of Hamakua Mushrooms, explained the mysterious presentation of the farm. He doesn’t use a sign because of the number of people who drop in unexpectedly.

They drive to Laupahoehoe, ask the Police Department for directions to the farm and walk to the front door of the 16,000 square foot building to ask for a tour, he said.

Stanga said he used to have to turn them away. Until recently, the facility was unable to support tours because specialty mushrooms need a sterile environment to grow.

Stanga said he learned his lesson the hard way when he invited mycologists (mushroom and fungal scientist) from around the world for a tour of the farm. The scientists were visiting Hawaii for a convention at UH Hilo.

First, he took them to the wood grinder — used to transform Eucalyptus wood to a growing substrate — and then he led them to a incubation room filled with mushroom mycelia (roots) colonizing jars of corn waste, eucalyptus, and wheat bran.

Finally, they entered the growing room where the mushrooms bloom after a machine scrapes a layer of the mycelia from the top — activating the growing process.

While the scientists viewed the mushrooms, they traced mud from the wood grinder into every room. Stanga’s crop failed — weeks of mushrooms wasted. Contamination is a critical issue in growing mushrooms.

Now, visitors are able to view the growing and packing rooms behind windows.

The one-hour tour and tasting is offered 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

The tour includes:

* Food safety registration

* Welcome orientation

* Showing of an exclusive video

* View of the stages of growth through windows

* Cooking demonstration

* Browse the boutique

Stanga’s wit, passion, and history are bound to convert those with even the strongest distaste for mushrooms. The Stangas’ story is fit for a film.

Stanga stands with freshly harvested Ali'i mushrooms (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Roya Sabri)

Stanga stands with freshly harvested Ali’i mushrooms (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Roya Sabri)

Before Stanga described his journey to Laupahoe, he asked, “Have you seen the show ‘Green Acres’?” Stanga explained his story with help from the script of that late-1960s sitcom.

In “Green Acres,” Oliver Douglas, lives in New York’s Park Avenue penthouse with his glamorous wife, Lisa. Despite being a successful attorney, Oliver has wanted to be a farmer since his childhood. One day, he finally decides to drag his wife from her beloved life in the city to a rural farm.

Like the fictional Douglas, Stanga followed his passion in 2001 and developed a mushroom farm in Hawaii with the willing support of his wife, Janice, an interior designer. She followed his lead, despite Stanga only having experienced the farm life on his uncle’s dairy farm as a child.

Though the Stangas’ story is not as dramatic as “Green Acres,” the plot follows a similar pattern.

Stanga moved to Hawaii in 1974 with the Navy as a pilot. In the 1980s, he started a helicopter tour business.

Meanwhile, he had grown to love Hawaii’s food and aloha spirit and he became friends with many restaurant owners. He wanted to cultivate a niche business that worked with those restaurants.

But Stanga put that plan on the back burner as he sold his helicopter company and moved back to Central California where he met his wife. There, he helped her in her interior design business until he met one of her clients — a mushroom farmer.

Her client told Stanga he had always wanted to start a mushroom farm in Hawaii, but “he thought that there would be too many hurdles,” Stanga said. “I had lived in Hawaii, and I knew if wouldn’t be difficult.”

With an optimistic mindset, Stanga returned to Hawaii with his wife.

With the help of his wife — a prodigious saleswoman — 14 employees from the Laupahoehoe area, professional consultations, visits to other farms, and the installation of world-class technology from Japan, the Stangas now grow 5,000 lbs of specialty mushrooms each week.

Stanga said, “I thought I was having fun flying until I started farming.”

He grows four varieties of specialty mushrooms: Gray Oyster, Pepeiao, Pioppini and Alii — the best seller.

He said, “Our mushrooms are enlightened.” The mushrooms do not claim to know the meaning of life. But they do need light to grow — these are not your typical blind button mushrooms.

Pioppini mushrooms bloom (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Roya Sabri)

Pioppini mushrooms bloom (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Roya Sabri)

In the growing room, carbon dioxide, temperature and light are regulated to provide optimal conditions. The mushrooms are cared for from spawn to flush.

Stanga is a stickler for quality. He said sustainability is a key tool for growing the best mushrooms. “It’s something Hawaii can be known for.”

In creating “nature’s recycler,” Stanga has eliminated waste. He reuses the bottles in which he grows the mushrooms: “the yellower the jar, the older the jar,” he said.

Instead of shipping corn from Honolulu and then grinding it on-site — a highly labor intensive process — he ships it from Conrad, Iowa. There, “Green Products” grinds the corn waste two times to make a dense product that doubled his yield.

And after the mushrooms are grown and harvested, he sells the decomposed substrate to private or commercial enterprises. Schools can pick up the substrate for free to grow their gardens.

Also, since specialty mushrooms grow in corn, wood and wheat instead of manure — a substrate used for the popular button mushroom — Stanga does not need to add pesticides and chemicals to the mushrooms. The mushrooms are “biologically grown.”

The lab — where Stanga develops tissue cultures — is still hidden from the public eye. His employees reprimand even Stanga when he doesn’t take the proper precautions before entering.

Visitors to the farm may catch an exclusive view of the lab while watching the video. Tourists feel closer to mushrooms after a visit to the farm.

Some of the mystery must remain. Stanga hopes to spark a flame of mystery in the culinary world of mushrooms that will keep his customers wanting to learn more.

After hearing his customers complain that they don’t know how to use mushrooms in their meals, Stanga decided to help them.

In the boutique, or “one stop mushrooms shop,” visitors can find an assortment of creative mushroom foods. Visitors find chocolate, lavosh, truffle oil, cookies, mango butter and teas — all made with mushrooms.

Mushrooms have great culinary potential. Cooking them a little bit breaks down the membrane and unlocks their nutrition.

To vegans’ delight, they are high in protein. But they also have the ability to bring out the flavor in other ingredients — in an interaction between their glutamates and the nucleotides in other foods.

The public can find the mushrooms on plates in hundreds of restaurants in Hawaii. The best chefs on the islands use Stanga’s mushrooms in their dishes: from Chef Roy’s “Hawaiian Fusion cuisine” to Chef Alan Wong’s fusion of his French culinary background with his Asian roots.

Alan Wong cooked Stanga’s mushrooms for the 2009 White House Luau.

Yet, Stanga furnishes the island first. Two hundred hotels, restaurants and resorts use his mushrooms.

Home cooks can find the mushrooms at major supermarkets, including Costco, Foodland, Sack & Save, KTA, Safeway and Walmart.

A perfect meal is just a click away. Hamakua Mushrooms has recipes featured on its website [].

The tour closes with a recipe demonstrated by Stanga himself.

One of Stanga’s favorite mushroom dishes is his own creation: Alii mushroom sushi. He cores the Alii with an apple corer. Then he takes the center meat of the mushrooms and cooks it with meat, seasonings, and olive oil. Finally, he stuffs the Aliis. The Alii look noble sitting on the plate hold a tasty surprise for the unsuspecting diner.

Jewelry in the boutique (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Roya Sabri)

Jewelry in the boutique (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Roya Sabri)

Visitors may wander into the boutique after the demonstration to buy a souvenir. Jewelry and art alike are made from artists from Hilo through Hamakua.

Visitors give back to the island by buying an island-grown gift in the natural mushroom way.

Tour information

* 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

* Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays

* Adults $20; children $10

* Kamaaina and group rates available

— Find out more:

“Hamakua Mushrooms” on Facebook

Make a reservation:

(808) 962-0305


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