It doesn’t look like much–a soft yellowish protuberance jutting out from a mossy patch of earth. Most people would never even notice it, but Steve Haas spots it from several yards away. He knows exactly what the unassuming, funnel-shaped knob is: a golden chanterelle, soon to become his dinner.
Steve’s had an eye for fungi since childhood, having learned the art of foraging from his father in the woods of West Virginia. He grows and forages over 15 varieties of mushrooms for sale at a half dozen markets including The William Byrd Community House Market, My Manakin Market, and the South of the James Market.
“I’ve been growing mushrooms for years and have always had dreams of starting a mushroom business. It was all pretty quick,” says Steve, who had a private practice as a massage therapist at the Jefferson Hotel before starting Steve Haas Mushrooms, aka ‘Haashrooms.’ “I started at St. Stephen’s farmers market and sold out from the very beginning.” Steve knew then that this was his true calling and something that he could make profitable.
The Haas home, located in Henrico, is a mushroom playground. Mushroom-yielding logs, dead trees, and beds of sawdust and spores dot the property. The Carcosian vibes of decaying wood and fresh earth give way to the happy sound of chickens squawking. Sonny, Steve’s favorite chicken, rides along in the truck when he goes out foraging. “She’s smart. She even plays piano,” he says, holding her and proudly patting her feathers.
Most of Steve’s mushrooms are grown indoors, in the Haas growroom, from which he produces criminis, shiitakes, and elm oyster mushrooms year-round as well as lions mane mushrooms, various oyster mushrooms, maitakes, and a medicinal mushroom called reishi seasonally. From early April through November, Steve forages all over Virginia, from the woods behind his home to as far west as Floyd, for golden chanterelles, morels, black trumpet mushrooms, and others.
Shortly after starting his business, Steve turned his personal knowledge and years of experience into an additional revenue stream. Haashrooms leads foraging expeditions for groups or individuals at various hiking skill levels. “Mushroom forays are the most fun you’ll ever have with your clothes on!” Steve laughs. Some foragers guard their harvesting spots closely, but Steve is eager to share what he knows with anyone who’s interested. “Our region offers some of the best mushroom hunting in the world. We take you to premium spots, show you where to look and what to look for.”
For folks who would rather grow their mushrooms than forage for them, Haashrooms sells indoor shiitake mushroom grow kits, which are easy to maintain and fortified with the Haas’ practically-patented mushroom-inducing chicken poop. “One customer got over 100 mushrooms on her first fruiting,” Steve points out happily. Haas says he plans to release different varieties of growing kits in the next year.
Adding new products to the menu is how Steve will continue to grow his business. Two years ago, Haashrooms introduced a line of salad dressings, pestos, and pates in collaboration with a chef, but they weren’t completely sold on the results. Steve’s wife Elizabeth, who has taken on a significant role in the business since their marriage three years ago, came up with her own recipe for a Shiitake Vinaigrette and a Portobello Basil Vinaigrette, and the couple soon realized they had found the taste they were looking for. “It literally flies off the shelf…Liz makes our vinaigrettes in our Dept. Of Agriculture certified home kitchen. It takes her a half a day, twice a week to make enough for for farmers markets, Libbie Market, and online orders.”
Next Steve hopes to capitalize on the growing popularity of mushroom extracts in skin care products. In addition to the vitamins and antioxidants that mushrooms are already known for, dermatologists are now suggesting that mushroom extracts help prevent the breakdown of collagen and elastin. Steve has been developing a line of skincare products for the past year that he hopes to release in the fall. “We believe this will be a game changer for us.”
Steve makes it clear that he’s found his place in life. He and Elizabeth are radiant in 90-degree farmers market heat; cheerful as ever, they seem genuinely happy. “In essence, we are building a family and a business together. My son was nine when we got together, my daughter has since gotten married, and Elizabeth’s daughter just gave us our first grandchild…This is what I love to do. We feel very blessed.”
Southern-fried chicken of the woods
Stacked logs produce the Seussian chicken of the woods mushrooms, which have a bright peach color and dense texture with a taste that’s reminiscent of, you guessed it, shrimp! JK, it’s chicken. These mushrooms can grow to monster sizes — Steve’s got an 8-pounder in the fridge as we speak. He and Elizabeth fry theirs up using this recipe.
- 1/2 pound chicken of the woods mushrooms
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup milk
- 3 tbs sriracha/hot sauce
- 1 c self-rising flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. pepper
- oil for frying
Whisk together the egg and milk in a bowl until foamy and thick. Add the hot sauce. In a pie pan or 8×8 baking dish, mix together the self-rising flour, salt, and pepper. Warm at least 3 inches of frying oil in a pot until a drop of water crackles and pops when flicked into the oil.
Dredge the mushrooms in the egg and milk mixture and then in the flour, thoroughly coating each piece. Fry two or three mushroom pieces at a time, being sure not to crowd because that will lower the temperature of the oil. Once golden brown, place on paper towels to drain excess oil.