Heartland Organics founder enjoying new career growing mushrooms

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 30 January 2023 at 9:04 am

Elaine Barnett touts mushrooms for nutrient, medicinal powers

Photos by Ginny Kropf: Elaine Barnett, founder of Heartland Organics at Johnson Creek, holds a bag of yellow mushrooms in the colonizing room where she grows a variety of mushrooms. On the left are black pearl mushrooms, with blue oyster mushrooms below. Her business is a favorite at Medina’s Canal Village Market, where she sells her wares every Saturday.

GASPORT – Elaine Barnett, 63, has always been a proponent of healthy living, leading her to a career as a holistic vet technician.

After inheriting her parents William and Helen Fink’s property at 8999 Ridge Rd. in Johnson Creek, she knew just what she wanted to do with it.

Elaine Barnett holds an agar plate where mushroom spores are placed to start growth before being placed in a jar of sterilized oats to continue the process.

The property in Niagara County had greenhouses, and although the buildings needed repair, she decided at the age of 58 to embark on a new career – growing mushrooms.

Barnett had married and raised six children, but after she and her husband separated, she went to work for a vet technician in Colden, where she still works several days a week.

“By growing mushrooms I saw the potential to re-build this property where I grew up,” she said.

She enrolled in Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Small Farm program online and learned how to grow mushrooms. She incorporated as a 501c3 because, as she put it, there aren’t enough places available for youth to come and learn.

Families, school children and Master Gardeners are all encouraged to come to Heartland Organics for a tour and learn how mushrooms grow.

It starts with a bag of oats, which are put in a quart jar and water added. A clone is taken from a mushroom and placed on an agar plate. When it starts to grow, it is transferred to the jar of sterilized grain, where it roots, or mycelium form. That, then, is transferred to five-pound bags of oats where colonization begins. The bags are placed in a temperature- and humidity-controlled room, where in two to three months, mushrooms are ready to harvest.

Barnett grows a variety of mushrooms, including Lion’s mane, black pearl, blue oyster, yellow oyster, maitake (known as Hen in the Woods because they grow wild under oak trees), shiitake and chestnut.

Chestnut mushrooms are sold to Harvest Restaurant at Bent’s Opera House in Medina, where chef Lionel Heydel uses them in his menus.

Besides being delicious to eat, mushrooms have wonderful medicinal value, Barnett said. She said they lower cholesterol and can raise or lower blood pressure.

Elaine Barnett looks over mushrooms growing in the colonizing room at Heartland Organics, 8999 Ridge Rd. in Johnson Creek. The room is temperature controlled and humidified.

She said Lion’s mane is known to repair and renew the neurons in the brain and there is some success in giving it to Parkinson’s patients and Alzheimer’s patients.

Barnett makes and sells a powder made from ground Lion’s mane, which can be added to coffee or any food. She sells one-pound bags of coffee with the Lion’s mane in it, and it cannot be detected.

When bags of mushrooms are fully colonized, they are cut from the bag and the mycelium becomes mulch in her organic garden.

Barnett has a small store on her property, where she sells locally made honey, soaps, beeswax mats, jewelry, coffee and, of course, mushrooms. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

She also sells her products every Saturday at the Canal Village Farmer’s Market in Medina and the Lockport market every other week.

Excess mushrooms are dehydrated and made into jerky or powder to use in coffee or recipes.

A mushroom breathes, just like a human, taking in oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide, Barnett said. That is why the colonizing room where they grow has to be ventilated to keep the air clean.

Heartland Organics welcomes volunteers to do hands-on work. They can be reached at heartlandorganics@yahoo.com.

(Left) A black pearl mushroom is ready to be harvested Heartland Organics in Johnson Creek.  (Right) A maitake mushroom, also known as “Hen of the Woods,” has amazing health benefits, according to Elaine Barnett, who owns Heartland Organics in Johnson Creek.