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Beneath and below diner’s feet! Hays couple grow mushrooms through underground farming

Agriculture

HAYS, Kan. (KSNW) – If you’re from Kansas, you may know a thing or two about farming, but what you may not know is that one local farm is taking their operation beneath or even “below” Hays. 

Kansas is known for growing all kinds of crops like wheat, milo, corn, and mushrooms. Well, maybe not mushrooms, but a Hays couple is growing the industry in a unique way.

“We’ve always been farmers, just farming something different,” said Mike Jensen, Owner-Operator of Jensen Farms and Professor’s Classic Sandwich Shop & More.

Walking into Professor’s Classic Sandwich Shop & More, customers may not know that just below them is an underground mushroom farm run by Jensen Farms.

“I think that people deserve good food and good service, and if people can get both of those things in one place, it’s pretty awesome,” said Amy Jensen, owner-operator of Jensen Farms and Professor’s Classic Sandwich Shop & More.

It’s an operation that has been commercially growing the crop for five years but has also been a lifelong passion for Mike who has been hunting wild mushrooms and growing his own mushrooms since he was a kid. “We grow oysters, about four different types, then we grow shiitake, lions mane, and I have a couple other’s I’m getting ready to mix into the equation,” said Mike.

The majority of the mushrooms are grown in black tubes filled with agricultural byproducts of straw and cottonseed hulls. Each day, the Jensen’s harvest around 30 pounds of mushrooms. The mushrooms are used to not only outsource to other companies but are also bringing a new meaning of ‘farm to table.’ The product is used directly in numerous dishes in the restaurant.

But this past year has been a test for the operation. Just before the pandemic hit, the Jensen’s signed a major commercial contract with US Foods. Leasing a warehouse and bumping up production, they prepared for a big year, working to sell close to 1,000 pounds of mushrooms a week.

But when COVID cases rose, restaurants closed, demand dropped, and the contract was cancelled. The Jensen’s went from harvesting anywhere from 200 to 300 pounds of mushrooms each day to trying to find somewhere for their product to go.

“It was hindering, but it was also exhausting. Just trying to take care of them, like get rid of them, save them, to keep growing them,” said Amy.

The Jensen’s had to preserve close to 25,000 pounds of mushrooms. Mike estimated the total losses between their restaurant and their farm was at upwards of $1 million dollars. But keeping faith, the couple searched for other outlets. They partnered with the local hospital, a chef, and now a local diner to keep sales up.

“I’ve actually been working on this project my whole life, so I wasn’t about to give up,”’ said Mike. Now, their operation is back going, demand is slowly rising, and hope is on the horizon. “When the world shut down it was defeating, but we were kinda excited that we grew that many and we knew we could do it,” said Amy. “When this is passed, we know we can do this, we can grow 25,000 pounds in a couple of weeks and keep it going.”

The Jensens say they were grateful for the community support, as many similar operations were forced to shut down. They say they look forward to growing more relationships and mushrooms in the future.

“I just love it. It’s something different. It’s always a challenge and you’re selling something to people that is healthy for them and is something you don’t get around here,” said Mike.

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