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As the season shifts from late fall to winter, it’s only natural that farmers’ crops shift with it. But for farmers Lexi Rojahn and Mark Cohen, the wife-husband duo who operate Wingstem Farm in Goose Creek Valley, the seasonal cycle evolves a little differently. Since they started selling at the Grandin Village Farmers Market, they’ve cultivated a reputation for their fresh mushrooms. When the growing season slows down, they offer dried mushrooms and mushroom tinctures. And Rojahn, with her background in fine art, is just getting warmed up.
At recent markets, Wingstem has offered dried mushrooms and mushroom tinctures (lauded for their purported brain health and immune-boosting benefits) alongside beautiful, dried flower wreaths, cotton kitchen towels imprinted with designs from hand-carved stamps, yarn made with dyes created from native plants, and all-natural soaps -- all created by Rojahn.
The mushrooms are where it all started. When the couple moved to Bedford County to take over Cohen’s grandfather’s land and create their own farm, they already had 20 years of farm life experience.
The pair both really liked mushrooms and, after seeing mushroom growing demonstrations at a few agriculture fairs, decided to give it a try. Rojahn and Cohen inoculated their first logs in 2014 and officially founded Wingstem Farm in 2015. They joined the Grandin market in 2018.
Shiitake are their best seller, and Rojahn’s favorite, too. “They have umami, a really nice savory flavor that goes well in all kinds of things,” she says, adding that they can be used anywhere you’d use portobellos.
While shiitakes grow well outdoors on logs, Rojahn and Cohen built a fruiting room in their house a few years ago to create a more controlled environment for harder-to-grow exotic varieties. Market-goers can find varieties here that most grocery stores don’t carry, such as lion’s mane, a popular pick among chefs as a seafood substitute; king oyster, a meaty number with large, edible stems that can be sliced horizontally and pan-seared like scallops; and chestnut mushrooms (or cinnamon caps), which boast a mild, nutty taste and a firm consistency. Wingstem also cultivates reishi mushrooms, used mainly in tinctures.
“Grandin is a great place for us to be. So much of what you have to do at the market is educating the public and why foods are raised a certain way and why they should care,” Rojahn says. “Grandin people, and Roanoke overall, are already sort of aware of these food issues, so it’s making our job easier.”