Making Mushrooms Remarkable with Meghan Klotzbach

LISTEN TO Meghan's EPISODE HERE OR FIND US ON YOUR FAVORITE PODCAST LISTENING APP!
 

 

Show Notes

Nick & Tessa MacDonald

Summary

On this episode of the AgVocates Podcast, Meaghan Webster interviews the VP of Sales, Marketing and Operations at C.P. Yeatman & Sons, Inc. and Mother Earth Organic Mushrooms, LLC. Meghan gives us a brief history on how the mushroom industry came to Pennsylvania and how her family has had a hand in several important milestones along the way, like establishing organic guidelines for growers. 

As a dedicated advocate for the industry, Meghan is also an active member of the American Mushroom Institute and the Mushroom Council and shares her perspective on the importance of getting active in commodity organizations as a farmer. 
 

Links

Transcript

Meaghan Webster:

Welcome back to the Farm Credit AgVocates Podcast. I'm your host, Meaghan Webster, Content and Digital Marketing Strategist at MidAtlantic Farm Credit. I'll start off by saying that I am honored that you chose to listen to today's episode, mostly because the food item that we'll be talking about can be a bit divisive. You can go ahead and take one guess, and you probably nailed it, mushrooms. Personally, I have never understood the whole “is fungi fun or not” debate because I'm a huge fan. Make it a pizza topping, or a main dish, and I have never met a mushroom I didn't like.

Although I could talk all day about food, the rest of our episode we are going to talk about making connections as a farmer. Last month we hosted a three-part webinar series that focused on helping young, beginning, and small farmers get started.

One of the topics that we focused on was really centered on building a network, finding mentorship, and really creating your own resource team. I'll warn you that I was really excited to do this interview, mostly because mushroom farms are really my favorite farm to tour, so I was really excited to hear  Meghan Klotzbach's story about their family's mushroom farm.

After getting to know her a little bit, I am even more excited to talk about her involvement with the American Mushroom Institute and The Mushroom Council. Both of these groups do a ton of work for the mushroom industry, but each have very different missions. The American Mushroom Institute focuses on the legislative and policy aspects of how farmers are able to grow their commodity. The Mushroom Council, on the other hand, helps with the consumer education piece, which helps to sell more mushrooms.

In these organizations, they work together to make sure that as a whole, this industry has a voice in how their commodity is being grown. Without further ado, let's jump right in to our interview with Meghan Klotzbach.

Welcome to the podcast, Meghan. Thank you so much for joining me today. I'm really excited about this conversation. I was hoping we could kind of just jump right in, and you could tell us a little bit about yourself, and maybe your position with your family's farm, and some of your positions with the industry organizations that you're active in.

Meghan & the Mushroom Industry

Meghan Klotzbach:

I'm a fifth generation family member with our family farm, C.P. Yeatman & Sons, Inc. Our brand is Mother Earth Organic Mushrooms as well as New Moon Mushroom, which we created a couple years ago to be our line of conventional produced mushrooms. We grow solely organic in our farms. The position that I hold within our family's farm right now is the VP of Sales, Marketing and Operations. I am mainly focused on our packing facility at the moment, but I've been in all areas throughout our company, whether it's growing, packing, or food safety.

Meaghan Webster:

I feel like that's a really big title, VP of Sales Marketing and Operation.

Meghan Klotzbach:

It sounds bigger than it is.

Meaghan Webster:

What kinds of things do you do on a day-to-day basis?

Meghan Klotzbach:

Like many family farms, there's really no one job that we focus on. We've got about 200 employees, so we need to make sure that we have a good group of management so that they can continuously run all those day-to-day things within our farms and our packing facility.

For us, it's really just kind of focusing on it all. We make sure that we're focusing on the HR side of things, and that things are going as they should be and that our customers are happy. We stay in touch with our sales manager, making sure every day, every minute that we know what's going on with that.

My focus is mainly in the packing facility, making sure that the operations of that are going smoothly, our employees are happy, being taken care of well and making sure that our policies are being pushed out correctly. I also focus a lot on the food safety program. I've been heavily involved in the food safety side of things since I started here a little over 10 years ago. That's always been a big push for me to make sure that we're selling a safe, quality food.

Meaghan Webster:

What would you say is your favorite part about it?

Meghan Klotzbach:

Honestly, I think my favorite part is the fact that I can pay attention to so many different areas, and I don't have to do the same thing every day. Even growing up or thinking about what job I wanted to do when I did grow up, I never wanted to sit behind a computer doing the same thing every day.

I like to be involved in different things and take on new projects, new tasks, new problems, and try to find solutions to them. I would definitely say that is my favorite part of my job is that I can really work with a lot of different people, a lot of different departments, and make sure we're running smoothly.

Meaghan Webster:

I feel like there's so many pros and cons to having a set routine, and it can be really nice to know where you're going to be and what you're doing at certain times, but it is really nice to have that variety and get to work with a lot of people.

Meghan Klotzbach:

It makes it more interesting for sure.

Meaghan Webster:

Could you give us the story behind your family's mushroom farms? Five generations in business is a really long time.

100 Years of Growing Mushrooms

Meghan Klotzbach:

Our story started out as a dairy farm. In 1919, we purchased our family farm that we are currently still growing mushrooms on today. As a family we had already owned dairy on another piece of property in the surrounding area. This was a good opportunity for us to have a larger dairy farm, so we decided to purchase that. About a year later, we got interested in the mushroom growing technology and the different techniques that were going on. I'm going to pause here and give you a quick history of how mushrooms even came to this area.

During the late 1800s, a man named William Swayne, a very successful florist in the Kennett Square area, had this idea to grow mushrooms underneath of his greenhouse benches. He wanted to use up as much space in his greenhouses as he could. He also wanted to be able to grow something in the winter, so he decided to grow mushrooms underneath and really utilize the space better.

He sent out to England and tried to get information from them on how mushrooms are grown. He reached out to them to get spawn, and spawn is the seed to grow mushrooms. The spawn came over from England, and he started growing mushrooms. He had really encouraging results, so he built his first mushroom house in the area. That continued with his family. His son then came back from college, and took over that business, and started to commercially grow that up as well.

After that, they were selling their mushrooms into city markets, and places in this area. Back then, even with a horse and buggy, Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, DC and Pittsburg were all within a day to get product to these marketplaces. A lot of others in the area started thinking that maybe this was a good solution for them to continue in their farms as well. All of a sudden we started having more and more people growing mushrooms in this area.

That takes us to 1920, when we realized that maybe we should start growing mushrooms, so we actually built our first mushroom house in 1921. 100 years ago this year, so we're celebrating our 100 years of growing mushrooms as a family.

Meaghan Webster:

Wow.

Meghan Klotzbach:

Yeah, it's really exciting. It's really exciting for us to be here that long and continue to still be thriving today.

Meaghan Webster:

You guys are a part of the main history of how it started and where it came from.

Most of the mushrooms that we eat anywhere here in the US are grown in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, right?

Meghan Klotzbach:

Yep, over 60% of all mushrooms that are produced for the US are actually grown in Kennett Square and its surrounding areas. This Southeastern area of Pennsylvania mainly, whether it's Kennett, up to Berks County, Oxford and areas like that. That's about 60% of the mushrooms for the United States. California, I think they come in second, around 15% or so. A much further down second place.

Meaghan Webster:

Wow.

Meghan Klotzbach:

Yes, Pennsylvania is very strong, and still holds that top spot for mushroom growing for the entire country.

Meaghan Webster:

That's a really big spread. I don't think I realized that it was that much of a difference between Pennsylvania and California. That's pretty awesome. You guys have been involved for such a long time.

What's has working with your family and growing up in that environment been like?

Farming with Family

Meghan Klotzbach:

My entire family does work in the business. Both my parents growing up worked there, so work always came home. It was always discussed at dinner. It was what was discussed in the house on the weekends. We were over there a lot. I remember when my brother and I would get off the school bus at our farm instead of our house. We would just walk up the field to the office. We would finish our homework in the office, walk around and see everybody, and help out in the office.

At that point in time, our packing facility was actually located in the basement of our office. It was a very small area. I remember middle school, I would go down and talk to some of the employees down there, and help them weigh mushrooms. It felt cool to be involved at that age. It was fun.

My brother, on the other hand, he really got involved in the growing side from an earlier age. He loved the idea of growing mushrooms and wanted to know a lot, so he got himself very involved. He loved to go with my dad to do night checks, and see how the mushrooms were growing. That was his true passion from a very early age. For myself, it took me a little longer to realize that I wanted to be as heavily involved as I am today in the business.

Meaghan Webster:

That was going to be my next question.

Did you always want to be involved, or did you have a different idea of where you thought your career might go?

Meghan Klotzbach:

I actually really didn't have much interest at all in being involved in the business, especially in high school. When I was looking at colleges, I really wanted to do something else. When I was a kid, my perception of the mushroom business was that women were always in the office. They just sat behind the computer, working on bills or Excel spreadsheets. That's what I saw and that's what was going on in that time. My mom did the payroll and that was something that I was never interested in.

I never wanted to be a secretary-type person. I never really wanted to be involved in the business, because I didn't really know if there was a place for me and I never asked. It was not something that I cared to get myself involved in. I figured I'd always just go do something else. I actually ended up going to college and getting a Bachelor's degree in Psychology. I absolutely loved learning about all that. I thought about going on to grad school, but then kind of realized that my heart was lying in starting a family with my now husband. I started working in the area that I realized I never wanted to be in. About three years, I realized that I was doing the same kind of work that I didn't want to do at the farm and realized that maybe there was something else out there.

 At this time, my husband was already working for the family business. He went to my dad and told him that I was really not sure what I wanted to do for a career and maybe there's an opportunity here for her. My dad approached me and said that he had opportunities for me. They were developing our Food Safety Program into a much larger program and could use some help with that and with our OSHA Program to keep our employees safe. I came in and I started researching because I had no idea what food safety or what the OSHA policies were. It was something I was never involved with in my life.

I started doing a lot of research and realized that there’s a lot that needs to be changed and done to really take hold of this type of program. After sitting down with my dad and going through it all, I realized it was an opportunity that I wanted to take on. I started taking that on about 11 years ago and have been here ever since. Every year I get myself more involved in different things. Whether that's within our company in different areas or the different industry organizations. I really love being able to take the time and be a part of those organizations. 

Meaghan Webster:

That sounds so satisfying.

From the beginning of not really knowing exactly what you wanted to do and then having your dad help you realize that there was a place for you. He didn’t make you feel like you had to do it, but rather waited until the time came when you realized there were different opportunities that were not just playing in Excel all day

Meghan Klotzbach:

Right, and he's so great about that. He wants to make sure that the business lasts for the next generation, and continues to grow for the next generation. He always wanted us to be part of it, but in our family it's never been enforced. It's not something you have to do. It's something that you need to want to do, and you have to earn it as well. That made it a challenge for me to succeed and it's been great.

Growing Organic

Meaghan Webster:

Have you guys always been organic or was there a shift at some point towards that?

Meghan Klotzbach:

Actually, in the mid to late '80s is when we decided that we wanted to try out organics and find out more information. There were no other commercial mushroom growers in the country who were growing organically at the time, and there was really no certification specific to mushrooms. If you know much about how mushrooms grow, they're grown very differently than any other crop. They can't really follow the same structure as a field crop, and how they’re certified organic because that's definitely different.

My great uncle, Jim Yeatman actually went and worked with NOFA-NJ (Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey), which was an organic certifier at the time. He worked with them to develop a certification program for mushrooms. He taught them how mushrooms were grown. He had them out to the farm a lot, so that they could really get in-depth knowledge of what was going on to build a certification program to work around mushrooms.

After putting a lot of effort and work into that, we did our transition year into organic production in 1989, and then in 1990 is when we sold our first certified organic mushrooms.

Meaghan Webster:

Wow. That's amazing.

Meghan Klotzbach:

Yeah, it is amazing. We were really the pioneer for that. Back then, organic wasn't much of a thing. It wasn't something that was big in the market. It wasn't a big driver for sales. We really did this because we wanted to make a beneficial impact on the environment. We really felt passionate about organic growing methods to protect our employees and families.

Back in the '30s, ‘40s and '50s, there were a lot of bad chemicals that were being used everywhere. My parent's generation really started to see that, and that's when it started to make a push towards being healthier and safer. They saw organic as a way to really grab ahold of that. That's when they made that decision, and they went for it.

In the first couple of years, we only sold about 1% of our production organically. The rest of our production was sold conventionally. In the late '90s we actually decided not to grow all of our mushrooms organically, because we were losing money every day producing them organically and then not being able to sell them organically. We were just way ahead of the market on that one.

Meaghan Webster:

Yeah.

Meghan Klotzbach:

We switched one of our farms back to conventional and continued to use a lot of our mindset and techniques from our organic growing ways to make sure we were still growing a safe product for our employees and not using really bad pesticides or chemicals on the farm. We were able to then sell our mushrooms easier. We had about 60% grown conventionally and 40% grown organically.

About eight years ago, we made the transition back to 100% organic, and we don't ever plan on going back now. The market is definitely there for it, and we've also gotten very efficient at growing organically, so we're able to do it without losing any money.

Meaghan Webster:

That's really cool. I mean you guys are the OG of organic mushrooms.

Meghan Klotzbach:

Yes we are.

Meaghan Webster:

That is really neat. A different question on the organic piece because that's very interesting. I love that your uncle was a part of developing that whole program.

How many other producers, or other family-owned businesses are organic?

Meghan Klotzbach:

I think there's about four or five, maybe about five large commercial farms who are producing organic mushrooms now. No other commercial farm is to our level or our size or larger producing 100% organic mushrooms.

Meaghan Webster:

That's fun to see the evolution. I mean you guys were doing it before it was cool, and now it's super cool.

Meghan Klotzbach:

Yes. It's kind of hard sometimes, especially for my dad because he was at the beginning of it, so for him it was his baby and now everybody else is doing it.

Meaghan Webster:

People catch on.

Meghan Klotzbach:

It’ll be okay, we were the first.  It's a good thing.

Meaghan Webster:

Exactly.

I would take it as flattery. It's a compliment.

Meghan Klotzbach:

Yeah.

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Staying Involved in the Industry

Meaghan Webster:

Can you tell us a little bit about the organizations that you're involved in?

I know American Mushroom Institute and The Mushroom Council. Originally, I didn't know there was a huge difference between the two, so I would love to start talking about some of those organizations and what your role is.

Meghan Klotzbach:

The two main larger organizations for the industry is the American Mushroom Institute, we call AMI, and The Mushroom Council. AMI is a Natural Voluntary Trade Association. It is headquartered right here in Avondale, Pennsylvania, which is great because the majority of our members and growers are located right here in Pennsylvania, so it gives us a much easier access to being involved, which is really good.

It supports the growers, processors, and marketers of cultivated mushrooms in the entire United States. They do a lot of lobbying for different policies to get the policy makers to really understand what we need as an industry and as farmers, whether that's different policies on food safety, the environment, or labor. All of those things are things that that organization can continue working for us.

The Mushroom Council, is actually a National Promotion Council of Fresh Mushrooms, and is actually certified under USDA. It is the National Marketing Association, and that is not voluntary. That is more of a mandatory association or council. It collects funds and then gets a lot of grants to be able to market fresh mushrooms to consumers, restaurant owners, chefs and schools across the country.

They can push it out into many different ways, but they solely focus on fresh mushrooms, so they're not worried about the process. They want to make sure that fresh mushrooms are getting on the plate of all consumers. By doing that, they're increasing the demands, so that we can sell more mushrooms.

Meaghan Webster:

You have positions with both of those groups, right?

Meghan Klotzbach:

Yeah, I'm on the board for both the AMI and The Mushroom Council. This is actually my first year on the AMI board. I've been very involved in the AMI and a lot of subcommittees. I've been the chair of The Mushroom Farmers of Pennsylvania, which is a subcommittee of AMI. Mushroom Farmers of Pennsylvania is specific to things that are going on right here in Pennsylvania, which, like I said, makes up about 60% of all the mushrooms grown for the US. It's a very big subcommittee.

I'm the chair of that committee for multiple years now. This year, I’ve taken a position on the board, so I'm really excited to get even more involved with AMI through that. I am hoping to start my second term on the board with The Mushroom Council next year. That’s been voted on, and we'll find out the results of that coming up here in the next few months, but still currently on the board finishing out my first term. I work with them, and it's been very enlightening to get to know the ins and outs of The Mushroom Council and the board. They don't have a lot of subcommittees to be involved on. It's more the board and their organization that they work with that are really driving it.

Meaghan Webster:

What are some of the things that they work on?

What would you say is the most important initiative that you've helped work on, or are working on currently with either of those organizations?

Meghan Klotzbach:

I'll start out with the AMI. I would say that the most important thing that I've done with the AMI, as well as what they do, is really lobbying for the industry. We work a lot with the local Pennsylvania state representatives and legislators, and then also nationally. We have that table in DC for that voice to be able to tell them what we need. It can be on so many different topics from food safety to the environment, to the huge labor crisis right now in the industry.

We've been working a lot on the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, and lobbying our goals to the policy makers on what we'd like to see within that, and how it can help us. I think the most important thing we do with the AMI is to really get our voices heard. Being a small family farm AMI allows us to have a voice even in DC, something that we wouldn't be able to have without that.

Meaghan Webster:

Our government affairs officer, Kurt Fuchs, does a lot of work with that. He would share all the different initiatives and things that he could help, and really making that connection to the folks that are in Washington making these policies. It's really important to have that educational piece of it. It sounds like AMI really is a cornerstone piece of that for the mushroom industry.

Meghan Klotzbach:

Yes, definitely.

Meaghan Webster:

What about the council?

Meghan Klotzbach:

They've done a lot of amazing things. They do a lot of research on the nutritional values of mushrooms and different things that it can help with. They've done research on prostate cancer and mushrooms, memory and mushrooms. There's so many things that they're doing research on that it's just bringing out some incredible results.

I would say one of the biggest things is they're working with different schools across the country getting mushrooms on the plate of kids in schools. They are trying to get kids to accept and ask for mushrooms on their plate on so many types of meal options from pizza to salad to noodles. If we can get it in kid’s minds, and get them to love mushrooms, it is only going to drive the demand for mushrooms up and for the future.

I think that that's one of the most important things that we can really do is just continuously get out there how nutritional, versatile, and how much better mushrooms make meals. One of the big things that they've created and it's becoming a big trend across the country, is The Blend, and it's when you blend mushrooms and meat, or meat substitute.

Meaghan Webster:

I have heard a little bit about it. I haven't ventured into trying it quite yet.

Meghan Klotzbach:

You should. It is amazing. I struggle to make a burger or meatballs without it. You take around 30% mushrooms and 70% meat. You can definitely go higher on the mushrooms, but that's where the starting point is really. Chop the mushrooms up fine to match the consistency of the meat or the meat substitute that you're using and blend that together. It just makes the meat more flavorful because mushrooms actually take on the flavor of what they're cooked with, which is also amazing.

Meaghan Webster:

Right.

Meghan Klotzbach:

It really enhances the flavor of the meat. It also makes them healthier because you're substituting some of the fat with a healthy non-fat option of the mushrooms.  It's creating a healthier product that tastes better and is more sustainable because mushrooms are extremely sustainable.

The amount of water we use to produce mushrooms is way less than any other commodity. It's great for the environment, great for the person, and it also tastes great. That's a big thing that they've really pushed out and it's an incredible thing to start.

Meaghan Webster:

You don't have to sell me on it. I am a huge fan of mushrooms. My husband not so much. I've had to sneak them in a little bit here and there.

Meghan Klotzbach:

He'll never know in The Blend.

The Nutrition Benefits of Mushrooms

Meaghan Webster:

It’s starting to grow on him.

We like to go out to restaurants, and we live on the Eastern shore, so we're close to Ocean City, and Delaware with lots of great culinary options.  I feel like I've seen a big spike in the number of plant based alternative meat kind of foods. I see mushrooms lumped in with a lot of those.

What's your take on where mushrooms are going as a nutrition source? Why should we eat more mushrooms?

Meghan Klotzbach:

Mushrooms can really fit in anybody's diet because they're extremely versatile. When you're vegan, they actually are a huge meat substitute. Portabella mushroom is a very meaty, dense mushroom. It has a lot of rich flavors, so that's a great meat substitute on its own even. It fits within paleo diets, and gluten free diets. I mean it fits when you love meat.

That’s what makes mushrooms incredible, is how versatile they are, and that they can be great for anybody. Some people don't like them, or they think they don't like them, but once they really start cooking with them and trying them out with new dishes, it really opens up their eyes to the possibilities that mushrooms can be.

I think they're going to be in so many more people's houses than they even are now. The demand is going to continue to skyrocket just because so many more people are willing to try them and understand how sustainable they are for the environment, how nutritious they are, and how many amazing things they can do for your health.

Meaghan Webster:

They're also kind of considered like a super food, right?

Meghan Klotzbach:

Yeah, I was actually just talking about that with our production manager. They really don't have any calories, fat, sodium, sugar. None of that. It's just amazing nutrients, vitamins that are great for you. Some of the exotic mushrooms have more of a stronger flavor, but the basic Agaricus mushrooms, which are your white buttons, Cremini, and Portabellas, really take on the flavor of what you're cooking it with, and they just give it a great addition.

Why Young Farmers Should be Involved in Industry Organizations

Meaghan Webster:

I want to go back to the industry thing a little bit. In August this year, we hosted a Young Beginning Small Farmer webinar series, and one of our webinars was actually dedicated to the idea of networking, mentorship, and growing your network in order to be a better farmer, and be a better producer.

If you were specifically speaking to a new farmer, why do you think it's important to get involved with organizations like AMI and The Council?

Meghan Klotzbach:

I think we're a very unique industry in that about 90% of commercial mushroom farms and packing facilities are part of the AMI Organization, so to say that, it shows you how strong and valuable that organization is. Without those members, the organization would not be what it is today because they need their members. They need their member’s voice to really make change, so I think that that's a really good goal for everybody is to become part of an industry organization that relies on its members and its members rely on them.

Being a new farmer, I think that it's most important because you want to know the accurate information about what's going on, whether that's policies in government, food safety rules that are coming up, or environmental rules that impact your farm. There's so many things that affect farmers today, and so many things that we all have to abide by. To have one place that you can trust to get that accurate information from is extremely important.

The second thing that I think is extremely important is that your voice can be heard. Being a small, family farm, we might not have access to having our own lobbyists work for us and everything like that. It's not something that we'd be capable of doing, and having a voice and a seat at the table, is not something that you could ever compare to. If we have an issue that impacts our family farm, I can actually have that voice heard in DC. That's not something that a lot of farmers can say that they can have an impact and actually reach different people in DC as well as our state government.

A couple of years ago, during the Trump administration, we had a meeting down in DC at the Capitol building just to review labor and where we were as an industry, what we would like to see and what our issues were. We were able to speak directly with the administrators of labor within the White House, so it was great to have a voice with them. We walked out to take a picture and Vice President Pence actually photo bombed us which is pretty cool. He stepped in to say hi. Being a farmer, it's not something that you really get access to, and are able to be a part of. I think that everybody really needs to take on as something that's important to them to help make change for their industry.

The way we look at it in the mushroom industry is if one of us fails, it affects us all. It can really affect the mushroom industry negatively as a whole. We want to be there and support each other. We're definitely competitors and we can compete on sales and customers, but when it comes to making sure that we're sound companies, making sound decisions, we really like to do that together in a room. We really do all sit together and discuss all of this stuff.  So many things can be shared and new ideas can come up that we can make the industry better.

Meaghan Webster:

I think too, there's this added level of accountability to your neighbor. The accountability and responsibility to actually speak up and take ownership of the industry that you obviously love and have grown to make your lifestyle.

Meghan Klotzbach:

When we're all condensed in one area, it's definitely easier to do this. I know if an industry is completely spread out across the country, and it's not condensed in one area, it's definitely harder for farmers to really work together. In this day and age of Zoom, I guess it can make it a little bit easier. We're definitely able to make it work.  About 90% of the AMI members are actually located in Pennsylvania, and that does include a little over 200 associate businesses. Associate businesses are just businesses that support our industry such as a bank.

Farm Credit is actually one of our associate members. Associate members widen out our web to really get to so many people. Having 90% of our members in PA, we really can all sit down face-to-face and be able to work well with one another. In the past, those were really the only voices that were together and now in the world of Zoom and everything else, we can sit together and have a video meeting with people from California, Texas, and Oklahoma, and they can all be involved in the same conversations that we're having here. Recently it's really opened up communication even better, which has been fantastic.

Meaghan Webster:

Having more people at the table and having that new perspective, absolutely. If anything good came out of COVID, I would say that for sure.

Meghan Klotzbach:

Yeah. For sure.

Meaghan Webster:

Everybody has learned how to use Zoom, FaceTime and all of these things. It does make it quite a bit easier.  I do miss seeing people in person, but from AMI's perspective, having that much of their participation in the same area, I can see that making a huge difference, so I would say it's probably just as important for other commodities and new farmers to be looking for those local organizations too, so they can actually get that face time.

Meghan Klotzbach:

Face-to-face is definitely the way to go for sure, but it opens up more possibilities to be able to virtually speak to people also.

Challenges Facing the Mushrooom Industry

Meaghan Webster:

We talked a little bit about, and I know you mentioned that there's a pretty big labor shortage right now from the mushroom side.

Are there any challenges that the industry is facing that your regular customer wouldn't know about?

Meghan Klotzbach:

We speak with our customers all the time, and honestly our customers are going through the same types of challenges that we are right now due to labor and supply availability. Packaging supply is way down. Raw materials are way down, so while the demand is skyrocketing for the rush of industry, there is definitely a shortage of mushrooms right now due to a shortage of labor and raw materials coming in.

We have some supplies that come in from overseas. Skyrocketing prices of containers to get over here, as well as the ports not having any labor to unload them. It's definitely been really hard over the last year and a half. We're not sure how quickly that's going to turn around. The demand is up, but the supply is not for sure. That's definitely something we're struggling with.

Meaghan Webster:

It probably seems redundant to ask, but I'd like to have that question out there just because I think it's kind of a shock when you're not able to go out and buy the thing that you specifically want.  I think that was definitely a wake-up call for people especially during COVID when you couldn't buy toilet paper, or paper towels, or whatever it was.

It affects each and every piece of the industry. I think it's a good reality check to be aware that it is not because we don't want to give you your mushrooms, it's because we're facing a lot of things that most people don't really see on a daily basis.

Meghan Klotzbach:

I think it's very important for consumers to get educated where their food is actually coming from and what goes into producing that food. Grocery stores and giant chains tend to make it a lot easier to get your food than it used to be. Like you said, it's a good dose of reality of what the constraints are, and for consumers to really become knowledgeable, and now I think it would be fantastic to get them to see that.

What Meghan Advocates for Ag

Meaghan Webster:

I am going to go ahead and give you our sign-off question. I feel like you may have already answered it, but I'm still curious to hear what you think about this.

What do you advocate for in agriculture?

Meghan Klotzbach:

I advocate for the farmer. We are out here, most of us still family farms, trying to make a living. Our entire family is invested and we want to make sure that the policies that are created are actually reasonable to the farmers. Making sure that farming continues because it's such a big part of our country that, again, I don't think a lot of people see and a lot of people understand completely.

Food isn't grown at the grocery store. It doesn't just appear. Farmers need to have a say. Farmers need to continue to thrive and really work towards growing and whether that's within the way of farming they've always done it, or taking on new techniques of farming that can grow them even better. A lot of it is having access to capabilities, to being able to grow and do those things, so there's a lot of environmental things that can hurt farmers in policy making. It's really trying to educate our policy makers on what they can do to institute policies that are actually relative for farmers to work with.

Meaghan Webster:

That is the first time that I've heard somebody bring up policy as what they're advocating for, so we love that. It's always a different answer, and I think it's super important because each of us bring something different to the table, so thank you so much for joining me today. This has been an awesome conversation. I am so excited about it.

Meghan Klotzbach:

You're welcome. Happy to be here.

Meaghan Webster:

Awesome. Thank you so much. Have a good rest of your day.

Meghan Klotzbach:

All right. Thank you. You too.

Meaghan Webster:

Thank you so much for tuning in to this episode today. I hope that you enjoyed it, and found it educational and maybe even a little bit inspiring. If you want to take a next step and connect with Meghan and her family, you can find Mother Earth Organic Mushrooms over on Facebook or you can check out their website at organicmushrooms.com.

If you enjoyed this episode we would so appreciate it if you would rate us, review us, subscribe, maybe take a screen shot and share with a friend. As always, if you have any suggestions for guests, or topics in the future, feel free to shoot us an email at podcast@mafc.com. Thanks so much for tuning in today and keep on advocating for what you believe in.