I noticed a week or so ago that most of the oyster mushrooms growing outside in the screenhouse fruited massively, at once. It was quite a display. If you start bulk substrate bags daily or longer intervals you expect them to fruit at similar intervals, and not in perfect synchronization like this. I figured that exposure to the natural weather cycles got them synchronized. Since they fruited together, they rested together, too, so I suddenly had no crop to harvest for several days. That worried me.

When Mushrooms Strike

Then pinheads started appearing again.

It turns out that something similar happened to other growers, including those that have indoor, climate-controlled grow rooms. It might have been the recent heat wave, the dramatic temperature changes, steamy weather - whatever did it, in spite of the controls, in recent days growers in the region have fewer mushrooms to sell than the market wants.

If you grew up on science fiction movies as I did, when something spooky like that happens, you immediately start thinking weird thoughts, wondering if perhaps the mushrooms were up to some mischief, or if they'd received a message from their home planet, and were now to start on the next phase of their epic plan to enslave humanity. Or not. As our home planet is also their home planet, something more ordinary probably caused this spooky coincidence. The photo below shows a bank of Hantana Pearl blocks on display at the Hamilton Farmer's Market, some of the many, though started weeks or even months apart, that fruited at once.

A few of the Hantana Pearl blocks that fruited in unison, at the Hamilton farmer's market July 30

Maybe enough of the weather changes - extreme heat or humidity, wide temperature swings - got through to the mushrooms, and they responded. They fruit in response to changes, like after, or during a heavy rain that follows a period of heat, or after a frost, things like that, just as plants do. That's my best guess at what caused the pause in crop production, but I really don't know.

Whatever cause it, it caused concern, even fear.

When nature interferes with our plans, as often happens, it reminds me not only of how vulnerable we are, but of what a tough job food producers, especially small producers, have trying to match supply and demand.

The small farmers and artisan producers I meet talk about this more than anything else, including the weather. Producing food is hard, consuming work. Marketing your products is a comparable challenge. Both require hard work, creativity, experimentation, negotiation, analysis, discipline, and determination. Both take tremendous amounts of time and often significant capital investment. Then, just when you think you have your production worked out and your customers lined up, something unexpectedly goes wrong. A big customer turns out not to need as much as they said they did, or they suddenly need much more than that, or the weather turns freakish and your crop comes late, or a new blight descends and the crop just fails. Or any number of other things that seem to come out of nowhere.
For small producers, even a fairly small disruption can mean the difference between paying the bills on time and having to borrow money, or go without. Of course, in the current economy, lots of people feel on or over the edge. That's certainly a tough, but a somewhat different, situation.

Having worked more of my adult life in large organizations, where much energy goes into political and social activity, much of it useless or counter-productive, plunging into the small agricultural business world feels like arriving on another planet. Here, economic survival is an hour-to-hour concern. Owner-operators cope with an extremely complex and difficult set of challenges that remains largely invisible to the general population.

If you want a deep, visceral understanding of market economics in the real world, try making a living producing food with your own two hands.