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Everyone’s Favorite Mushroom Guy: Meet Jesse Marksohn

Sep 24, 2019 04:39PM ● By Gabrielle Varela
It’s a hot and humid day and Jesse Marksohn is tearing through the woods like a hound with a
scent. As the soft spoken, light-footed forager marches at a rapid speed he’s identifying trees
and other edible plants as he passes. It’s like watching a documentary or tutorial in fast forward.
These plants, he explains, barely breaking a sweat, indicate that mushrooms are nearby.

Marksohn arrived to the Upper Valley in mid-July of last year. Vermont weather is ideal for the
mushroom biz. That first year foraging yielded 250lbs of wild mushrooms all while working odd
jobs like landscaping and gardening. These day jobs allowed him to focus on integrated forest
gardening, permaculture solutions and holistic landscape designs. And now, after much
experimentation and hard work, the Long Island Native is here to change the game by
celebrating the uncelebrated: providing mushrooms through responsible foraging and farming.

The season is really ramping up for the fungal forager and farmer. Soon, Marksohn will be
spending around four hours a day foraging while also cultivating mushrooms at his farmhouse in
White River Junction, Vermont.

According to Marksohn, it all started with a concussion. Well, several, which led him to learn
about the health benefits of mushrooms through a study by a team from the Department of
Psychological Medicine and Department of Biochemistry at the Yong Loo Lin School of
Medicine at the National University of Singapore (NUS). The study found that seniors who
consume two or more portions of mushrooms weekly may have a 50 percent reduced chance of
having mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

“I mean, 50 percent? That’s potentially cutting your chances in half. Oysters are a complete
protein named for the health benefits,” he explains. “Ergothionine is an antioxidant that is heat
stable only found in mushrooms. Really incredible.”

As he fires off an encyclopedia of facts about the health benefits of mushrooms, he
demonstrates an intense knowledge for his now thriving mushroom business and
ever-expanding farm. It’s hard to imagine the long time advocate for nutrition, cultivation and
ecology was ever an indecisive, wayward college kid.

“I don’t like being forced to learn.” He says in reference to his attempt at conventional education
in college. If there is one thing that is apparent about Marksohn, he likes to do things his own
way.

He snaps a large pocket knife out and delicately slices a bright orange mushroom from the
ground and puts it in the mesh front pocket of his backpack. “As I’m walking here, I’m making
sure I’m not uncovering loose ground because it’s very important there is a dry layer and a
fermentation layer. By maintaining that and not digging this up, you’re not hurting this organism.
I don’t feel any moral qualms when I’m harvesting a whole area of Chanterelles . I will still leave
a couple but I’m usually out foraging through many different ecosystems for hours. The way that
I do things; putting the gills outward in the mesh, I’m also spreading the mushroom spores.
Being a part of their reproduction is a good way to forage.”

Back at the farm, sitting at the dining room table with some much needed water in homemade
clay mugs, Marksohn knew if he was going to farm it was going to be sustainably but he didn’t
anticipate his personal interests being so well-received by the community and his customers.
“Ethics was never part of the marketing plan,” says Marksohn. “But seems to be the biggest
draw toward my business.”

Downstairs in his mushroom lab, a forest of white plastic containers stacked high with decks of
mushrooms fruiting out the side. The original labels written over with black Sharpie numbers,
“FROZEN STRAWBERRIES” crossed out and replaced with the dates of the mushroom
colonization.

“This process makes me save a lot of energy.” He says, slowly guiding me through the
pathways to the back where a table scattered with petri dishes and microscopes show how
seriously scientific he is about this. Sealed bags full of sawdust on the floor.
“In terms of conventional mushroom farming, all of specialty mushroom farming is done with
these single use polyethylene plastic bags called Unicorn bags that in most cases are
non-recyclable.” He says, holding one up.

“I’m trialing some compostable bags but I feel very responsible so every single one of these I
re-use at the bare minimum of twice. I use very few of them for the amount that I grow.” explains
Marksohn.

“I’m using over 150x less plastic than a traditional mushroom farm. With 60 buckets I can get
120lbs of oysters with one single use plastic bag.” His care for them straddles between a major
scientific operation to beloved pets as he worries over the heat and describes his rogue process
of colonizing mushrooms. Most of the strains he finds himself with the help of a friend.

Leading me outside, Fungal Forest Farm is as dreamy as its name implies. The 23-acre
property only has about one fourth of it currently farmed. The rest is lush thick, green forest.
Butterflies float along lazily and chickens wander freely. A stunningly beautiful work in progress.
We pass piles of wood chips reserved for an attempt to run his farmhouse on compost this
winter. On the side of the house, next some tomato plants already showcasing bright red
tomatoes are rows of black mesh tunnels, covering the same stacks of plastic containers seem
inside. This is where they move to mature. No artificial light. No artificial humidity. No artificial
temperature.

“This is a living floor we’re standing on with built in natural humidifiers from these plants
here.The shade cloth shades them from intensive sun but also allows them to get a lot of sun.
So they are much more nutrient dense and firm.” A technique Marksohn is pioneering.
“This is exactly the moisture content you want. The flavor and shelf life are longer than
mushrooms that are saturated with humidity making them heavier in weight but lacking in flavor.
I am making sure I am really providing something that is peak quality.”

The last stop of the day is a large sunroom on the side of the house. A room, Marksohn points
out, that serendipitously was already a part of the property and did not need to be built. A soft
fan buzzes, airing the room which is again filled with towers of containers of fruiting mushrooms.
“Sunlight and prime harvesting are the major players in terms of flavor. So it’s a perfect
mushroom room! I call it my insurance.” He jokes.

Marksohn cultivates four varieties of mushrooms: Oyster , Lion’s Mane , Wine Caps and Shiitake
but has sold eleven different wild species. His products have graced the menus of Ariana’s in
Lyme, NH; Mangalitsa in Woodstock, VT; Market Table in Hanover, NH; Artisan Eats in
Windsor, VT and Piecemeal Pies in White River Junction, VT to name a few.

At home, Marksohn himself cooks with diversity. Having tried 126 edible species, he creates
dishes like cabbage wraps with slow sauteed Chicken Of The Woods in butter and garlic and
whole wheat Lion’s Mane pasta with a ramp and Morel cream sauce.

You can get your hands on his mushrooms at Sunrise Farm and the Hartland Farmers Market’s
and keep up with him @fungalforestfarm.

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