Mike and Amy Jensen in Professor’s Classic Sandwich Shop. The family grows mushrooms in the basement of the building at 521 E. 11th St. in Hays.
BY CRISTINA JANNEY
As you step into Professor in Hays’ Classic Sandwich Shop, you will be greeted by the bright, cheerful atmosphere, the wooden floors of the old depot from which the shop was built and the bar from the old nightclub days of the shop.
Many guests are unaware that there is a commercial mushroom growing company under their feet.
Mike and Amy Jensen, owners of the Professoren and Jensen farms, mainly grow oyster mushrooms in their cellar, but also some lion’s mane and shiitke mushrooms.
The mushrooms are used in a variety of dishes at the restaurant, including mushroom chilli, soup, french fries, and mushroom taco salad. Amy’s mother bakes on a pre-order basis and uses the mushrooms in cinnamon rolls and beer socks.
The family sells fresh or dried mushrooms along with raw honey in the restaurant and downtown Hays Market.
The plant is also shipping to Kansas City, selling mushrooms at Gella’s Diner and hoping to sell the mushrooms in Philip Kuhn’s new grocery store, which he’ll soon open on Main Street.
“I’m trying to make it more mushroom friendly around Hays and just teach people about it,” Mike said.
Mike Jensen, 47, started hunting wild morel mushrooms with his parents as a child. After graduating from high school, he began growing his own mushrooms for personal consumption.
He still hunts wild mushrooms whenever he can. He led mushroom excursions (mushroom picking), but these were put on hold due to the pandemic.
He started growing mushrooms commercially five years ago.
Mike Jensen pulls back a plastic sheet in a room in the professor’s basement and shows mushrooms that grow on tubes filled with straw and cotton bowls.
Secrets of growing mushrooms
The Jensens’ oyster mushrooms are grown on black tubes filled with cotton husks and straw, agricultural by-products.
Oyster mushrooms take about three weeks to grow and last about three months.
The Jensens produce around 30 pounds of mushrooms a day.
They also grow shiitake and lion’s mane mushrooms, but Mike said they are more spirited and take longer to grow.
The Jensens keep the cellar at around 90 percent humidity by pumping warm steam into tents. Water quality is important to mushroom growing, so heating the water also helps remove impurities in the water, Mike said.
The mushrooms convert the water into fruits. Eight pounds of water will make the mushrooms equivalent in weight, Mike said.
A group of oyster mushrooms grow under the Jensen’s restaurant. The family uses the mushrooms in soups, chillies, stir-fries, salads and beersocks. The mushrooms are also sold fresh or dried.
Tastes like crab meat
Oyster mushrooms have a neutral taste, which is why Mike uses them in stir-fries and adds taco seasoning to his taco salads.
Jensen also grows shiitake mushrooms, which have a more earthy flavor profile, and lion’s mane mushrooms, which Mike says tastes like crab meat.
Mike said he used the lion’s mane mushroom instead of fish in a seafood taco.
“You wouldn’t know the difference,” he said.
The Jensens also sometimes order Oregon chanterelles, which have a sweeter taste. Some cooks make ice cream out of the chanterelles.
“Mushrooms, people either love them or they hate them,” said Mike. “The reason they hate them is because of the mushrooms sold in your regular grocery store that are grown on manure.
“The button mushroom is probably one of the mildest mushrooms out there. That’s what gives mushrooms a bad name, so to speak.”
Mike Jensen holds a bag of sawdust and wheat straw from which lion’s mane mushrooms are grown.
Mushrooms as a Hazmat team
Mushrooms are a complete protein. Oyster mushrooms are rich in vitamin D and contain other vitamins and minerals.
Not only are mushrooms a healthy food, they can also be good for the environment. Mushrooms are a natural hazmat crew. They’re often used to clean up chemical spills, Mike said.
“You take the chemicals out of the dirt and break down the hydrocarbons in the chemicals and you can eat the mushroom and it cleans the floor,” Mike said.
The process is known as mycoremediation.
Scientists have also discovered that certain mushrooms can eat plastic and have been used in landfill projects, Mike said.
Mike Jensen is holding a shiitake mushroom. Courtesy photo
Before the pandemic, the Jensens signed a contract to sell mushrooms to US Foods. They rented a large warehouse and ramped up production to grow 1,000 pounds of mushrooms a week.
However, the pandemic struck and US Foods canceled its contract. The Jensens dried and frozen as many of the 25,000 pounds of mushrooms they grew as they could, but still had to give away some of the harvest.
Many mushroom producers went bankrupt as a result of the pandemic because they were unable to sell their mushrooms, Mike said.
Mike estimated between losing the contract with US Foods and losing the restaurant that the company lost approximately $ 1 million due to the pandemic.
The Jensens are in the process of building a new mushroom facility on their farm, nine miles north of the Yocemento exit, which will hopefully allow them to ramp up production again without the added expense.
Mike said he hopes to sign another trade agreement for his mushrooms after the pandemic passes.
Mike Jensen is working on a beehive. Courtesy photo
The Jensens also raise honey bees on their farm, which is primarily found in natural grasses and wildflowers. Amy and Mike have had the beehives for about 11 years.
The family usually runs 50 to 75 beehives, but this year they grow to 100 beehives.
The operation delivers approximately 4,000 to 6,000 pounds of raw honey a year.
Mike said he was enjoying sharing his bee knowledge and hoping to have some courses through the expansion office, but the pandemic has put these on hold.
Most microorganisms do not grow in honey, which means that it was used to treat wounds from ancient times to modern times. It will never go bad. It can harden, but can be brought back into a liquid by slowing down the heating.
Mike also advocated the use of honey as a sweetener.
“This doctor gave me the best presentation on this aspect,” said Mike. “He was holding up an apple and a bottle of honey. He said the sugar in that bottle of honey had more to do with this apple than table sugar, so it’s just the natural sugar.”
Honey is also filled with vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
The family uses their hometown honey in biscuits that are served with every meal in the restaurant.
“We always learn, that’s what I love [honey and mushrooms]”Said Mike.” Knowledge is power to me and I really enjoy learning many different things. “