An art and a science

Peshtigo fungi company is, well, mushrooming

Posted on Jun 1, 2021 :: Small Business Spotlight
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

As a child, Joe Krawczyk’s father would take him out of school on a Friday and they’d head to central Wisconsin to forage for mushrooms. 

“It became a treasure hunt,” says Krawczyk, co-owner with his wife, Mary Ellen Kozak, of Field and Forest Products. The Peshtigo company, in business since 1983, sells products, tools and supplies to help people cultivate their own mushrooms — a process Krawczyk calls both “an art and a science.” 

“When we started Field and Forest Products, we were committed to raising ecological awareness about our woodlands while improving timber quality by promoting timber stand improvement practices to generate the beginnings of a mushroom farm,” says Krawczyk, a trained botanist. 

Along with Kozak, who has a degree in agronomy, the duo and their seasonal team of 18 employees are eager to share their knowledge of all things spore and spawn — the key ingredients needed to grow mushrooms. 

Customers can purchase spawn — the carrier that holds a specific strain of mushroom mycelium — which they transfer to a host such as hardwood logs, straw, wood chips or another substrate on which the mushrooms will propagate. Krawczyk says Wisconsin is well suited to growing mushrooms with its vast resources of hardwoods. 

In addition to growing mushrooms as a hobby and a source of food, the practice has ecological benefits. “We’re managing the forest in a sustainable way,” says Krawczyk. “We’re taking low-value hardwood logs … and using them to cultivate an edible protein source. When the logs are spent, they’re fully rotten, so that goes back into the soil. It’s a real circular economy.” 

Mushroom harvests start with quality spawn, and the company tests its spawn and new strains and technologies at its carefully regulated laboratory and farm.

While Field and Forest originally sold its product wholesale to distributors, it now sells direct via its website. About half of its business is semi-commercial growers who grow seasonally for farm markets; the other half is hobbyists. 

That’s a change in demographic, Krawczyk says, noting that more people have become interested in growing their own food. “Local food became really hot,” he says. 

A cultural shift toward more diversity in food tastes also has added to the demand for the business’s products and expertise. “When we first started, (consumers only knew) button mushrooms and portabellas,” Krawczyk says. “Then shiitake came along. Over the last 40 years … it’s just a great experience to have all these tastes and textures.

“There’s been a lot going on,” he adds. “As a result of that, our business has continued to grow.”

Field and Forest sells spawn for about a dozen kinds of mushrooms that can be grown indoors or outdoors, by both veteran fungiphiles and novices. Horticulture enthusiasts Tom and Linda Pecht of Suamico are avid fans. 

“When I was approached with the mushroom idea, I said I might try a few logs. Well, a few shiitake logs became 100 logs, which became 500 logs, and each year we add to the total,” Tom Pecht says. “It has been a fun project.” 

In addition to selling spawn, Krawczyk and Kozak have followed in Kozak’s parents’ and grandparents’ footsteps by selling fresh mushrooms at the Green Bay Farmers Market. “It’s one of the few fresh products that (are available) early in the season,” Krawczyk says. “It’s our heritage that got us into the mushroom business; we’re both Polish Americans.” 

More than three decades after starting Field and Forest, the duo has the same goal — finding “new possibilities in the world of mushroom cultivation and fungal interactions that are compatible with overall sustainability and renewability within the environment around each of us.”