Sara Küpers austernpilze Zucht Wachteleier

Mushrooms – in amazing colors!

How does a young woman get into farming mushrooms?

Sarah’s love for nature and her goal to treat natural resources with care leads her into 'exploring' a special food: the oyster mushroom and the 'Burgundy' truffle. In 2016 she establishes her company 'Trüffelwerk' (Truffle plant). Quite a fancy name as her farm is situated in the former coal mining area of Germany with a lot of old industrial sites around.

Which natural product suits me with my initial situation? 

That is the ques­tion that gets everything rolling. Sarah owns a small former nurs­ery site and a suc­cess­ful start in the 'Human Resources' depart­ment of a large com­pany. She com­pletes her master’s in edu­ca­tion­al sci­ence togeth­er with the birth of her second child. Her first busi­ness exper­i­ence got her think­ing about the com­pat­ib­il­ity of family and career.

"As an aca­dem­ic, I was faced with a career in a large cor­por­a­tion, but also a 40-hour week away from my family. Now I have a 60-hour week, but my chil­dren can see and talk to me at any time. I can always be there for them in between all my busi­ness activ­it­ies. But that also means giving a cook­ing event in the even­ing or selling my products at a market stall on the week­end."

The mushroom farm idea:  strategic steps & business plan

The idea of recon­cil­ing family and work leads her to an appoint­ment with a com­pet­ent employ­ee of the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture. With this advice, she devel­ops a busi­ness plan for mush­room cul­tiv­a­tion. The halls on the premises are already a good start­ing point for the cul­tiv­a­tion. But first she reads a lot about dif­fer­ent mush­rooms. As an aca­dem­ic she knows how to ‘digest’ tech­nic­al and sci­entif­ic lit­er­at­ure. She spends many hours in her small self-built labor­at­ory - exper­i­ment­ing with dif­fer­ent fungal spores, the growth media such as rye, straw pel­lets as the cul­ture media, humid­ity, and other neces­sary factors. The old con­crete mixer is simply used to mix her new nutri­ent sub­strate. Then she puts her mix­ture in old plastic con­tain­ers. The fungi spores start to grow. Within 2 days you can see the small mush­room shapes and the colors emerge: fas­cin­at­ing shades of lemon-yellow, pink-orange and cream-beige pop up.

The colors of her fungi go along with a unique taste. The Golden oyster mush­room has a slight lemon taste, the Pink oyster mush­room has a touch of bacon and the tex­ture of the Pearl oyster mush­room is a bit like chick­en meat. But first of all Sarah deals with the fin­an­cial side of start­ing a busi­ness.

"The lead time of 2 years until the first har­vest was first without earn­ings. I also had to work on the ‘mar­ket­ing and sales’ points in my busi­ness plan and to make a decision about my start-up concept. That took much blood, sweat and tears."

Next steps and farm store project

Sarah gains a lot of exper­i­ence in the first few years which makes her an expert now on her mush­rooms. No detail on the mush­room cluster escapes her crit­ic­al eye. She con­stantly checks the para­met­ers: Is the humid­ity set cor­rectly? How does the mush­room react to the new grow­ing medium? Many factors change the per­fect and healthy look of her oyster mush­room. Sarah knows all the facts to grow a great nat­ur­al product. She researches fur­ther for a suit­able organ­ic sup­pli­er to deliv­er pre packed cul­ture grounds. She needs to be more effi­cient to cope with the grow­ing demand for her products.

Which products are a great addition to my oyster mushrooms?

Sarah starts grow­ing quails and dif­fer­ent chick­en. Their spe­cial egg colors are a great addi­tion to her Golden and Pink oyster mush­rooms. Then she has the idea of using her a mush­rooms to brew a beer. This is now pro­duced by a master brewer and sold in her farm shop. What to do with her non sold fungi? Prag­mat­ic as she is she starts drying her left over mush­rooms in her farm shop. She uses the dried product for her spe­cial risotto mix­ture, which she pro­duces her­self in a friend's gastro kit­chen. Her ‘no waste’ strategy is a great motiv­at­or for her to devel­op more food ideas.

Slow Food and Slow Investment

Even as Sarah exper­i­ments with grow­ing her oyster mush­room, she is invest­ing in anoth­er mush­room that she may not be able to har­vest for anoth­er 10- 15 years. She is plant­ing thirty dif­fer­ent decidu­ous trees, still very small. Their root sys­tems are 'inocu­lated' with the Bur­gundy truffle fungal web. Before plant­ing, she does a lot of research, as always. At a French truffle insti­tute, she has her soil tested and finds the appro­pri­ate nat­ur­al addit­ives. That is needed so that the fungus spores have a chance to mul­tiply and to slowly grow. Now you under­stand why she choose the name ‘Truffle plant’ for her busi­ness.

"I find this spe­cial sym­bi­os­is of tree, fungus and nature abso­lutely fas­cin­at­ing. The seed­ling must grow very slowly so that the bur­gundy truffle has a chance to devel­op. The tree bark slice with the hard­wood shred­ded around the trunk keeps the area free of other plants. And my oldest son keeps the meadow clear. He is respons­ible for mowing the lawn and doing other small chores. Even at 12 years old, chil­dren can gain a lot of con­fid­ence from their little chores. We as par­ents just have to trust them that they can do it."

Sweden - favorite country and ‘haven of peace’

Yes, also Sarah needs a retreat to recharge and just be in nature without doing any­thing with nature. She already starts to relax driv­ing to south­ern Lap­land - the jour­ney is the reward. You can see her fond­ness for this land in some of the details on her prop­erty. The ‘Swedish flower’ chick­en belongs to her small but fine chick­en gang. 

"We spend the summer vaca­tions in Sweden on an old farm. This fits per­fectly with my mush­room grow­ing busi­ness. During this time, I turn off the mois­ture in the grow­ing rooms and stop pro­duc­tion before­hand. This allows the shelfs and rooms to dry out well and I can avoid a nasty mold infest­a­tion of the walls and the hall." 

Do chicken have a favorite dish?

Leave it up to Sarah to tell you about her chick­en beha­vi­or. Her interest in nature can be noticed in many vari­ous facets like the atten­tion to her chick­en ‘talk­ing’.

"I have fun observing my chick­ens. I now recog­nize 30 dif­fer­ent sounds of their chick­en lan­guage. My roost­er not only pro­tects the hens, but he is also some­times the arbit­rat­or of a dis­pute. I noticed that my chick­ens like to eat pasta leftovers. Well, now of course when I cook pasta for my family I always cook a second pot of pasta for them. My chick­ens are also much more intel­li­gent than my quails, but please don’t tell them.”

What are your goals for the future?

Sarah cer­tainly has more than just 10 goals. She loves the chal­lenge and just trying out some­thing new. There is always a space for addi­tion­al pro­jects in her busi­ness plan. The chil­dren will even­tu­ally grow up and become more inde­pend­ent and can go their small but own ways. But for now, Sarah is pre­oc­cu­pied with this con­sid­er­a­tion:

"What's cur­rently at hand is the decision - Do I want to grow my busi­ness? There are enough inquir­ies from larger cus­tom­ers like bigger local super­mar­kets. I do have enough space here. Then I would be even more involved with the organ­iz­a­tion­al part of the busi­ness. Spon­tan­eously trying some­thing out or pur­su­ing a some­what crazy idea - that might become a chal­lenge. I would have to hire more people. It is a per­fect fit with the three women I have employed now. They are all moth­ers and we sup­port each other if a child is sick or any other issues like this. Will that still work if I have more employ­ees doing the ‘day to day’ work?"

So, the ques­tion of wheth­er to set up a show kit­chen in her barns is pretty simple as Sarah is very prac­tic­al. If she has everything on site like doing her cook­ing classes, pro­cessing her mush­room mix­tures and other products, then she has more time. To do what? Well she likes to spend more time work­ing in her organ­ic garden on side. Anoth­er pro­ject that fits her ‘mother & busi­ness­wo­man’ strategy. Her chil­dren can learn a lot about nature while being with their mother and help­ing her.                    

As a 'mul­ti­task­ing cap­able' woman, Sarah will surely tackle many more excit­ing pro­jects. I'll be happy to stop by again.

Name: Sarah Küper

She is:

farmer, has a MA in Edu­ca­tion­al Sci­ence, hunter & mother with 4 kids

To be found:

in Reck­ling­hausen, Ruhr Area, North Rhine-West­phalia, Ger­many - this was the biggest coal mining area in Ger­many 

She sells her products in her own farm shop or at local market stalls

She likes:

Walk­ing with truffle and hunt­ing dog Otto, garden­ing, going hunt­ing, biking, play­ing the piano, read­ing his­tor­ic­al novels and read­ing in gen­er­al.

She admires:

'My great-grand­moth­er, who ran a farm with 10 chil­dren and was said to be incred­ibly quiet and loving.'

Her WIASOLA tip:

Here 5 favor­ite songs:

  • Claude Debussy ‚Clair de Lune‘
  • Type O Neg­at­ive ‚Green Man‘
  • Edvard Grieg ‚Sol­veigs Song‘
  • Beatles ‚Here comes the sun‘
  • George Ger­sh­win ‚Sum­mer­time‘

To be found under:

  • Food facts - did you know that...?
  • Color inspire also while pre­par­ing a meal

Click here for more WIASOLA pages about mush­rooms.

Food Facts - did you actu­ally know ...?

Color can inspire while pre­par­ing a meal

Click here for more WIASOLA pages with mush­rooms.

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