Califonia Bountiful

From horse stable to kitchen staple

The mushrooms at this San Diego County farm take a circuitous route!

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Gary Crouch runs Mountain Meadow Mushrooms. His father bought the Escondido farm in 1982 and today it boasts a fresh take on growing mushrooms: using straw from the stables of pedigreed racehorses to make nitrogen-rich compost, which in turn yields snowy-white button mushrooms, brown crimini mushrooms and meaty portobello mushrooms for local supermarkets and restaurants.

Gary says the seven-week racing season discards enough straw to last the farm most of the year.

"For us, it's gold," he said.

This is how it works: The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club collects used hay from their stables and trucks it over to the nearby farm. There, the mixture begins a four-month transition to become a sterile, nitrogen-rich compost, or substrate. Gary and his team then spread the substrate onto tiered beds in refrigerated growing rooms, where they raise the fungi in the dark. The mushrooms have a 60-day growing cycle, and the first of three "picks" occurs on the 40th day. Mountain Meadow harvests around 17,000 pounds of mushrooms every day of the year.

After the third picking, the substrate's nitrogen level is too depleted to produce much. The spent substrate is then sterilized and, to the delight of local gardeners, piled in front of the farm. Anyone with a pickup truck can shovel up as much as they want—for free! Gary says people from community gardens and rose and garden clubs happily scoop up the stuff, which still contains plenty of beneficial fungi to help produce lush plants.

It's a winning situation for all those involved: The farm benefits because the straw—a standard ingredient in mushroom compost—is delivered for free and has the bonus of being extremely nutrient-rich. Local gardeners reap similar benefits, and the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club saves big on landfill fees.

For more information about Mountain Meadow Mushrooms, visit

For an in-depth look at the winning partnership between the mushroom farm and the thoroughbred club, read this article in the November/December 2016 California Bountiful magazine.

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