Thunder heads streaming rain rushed across the horizon as we visited with Tyson and Jessica Stillman of Shields River Farm and Nursery at their home west of the Crazy Mountains. Tucked in the fertile bottomland at the edge of Wilsall, among towering cottonwoods and meadows of lush summer grass, their farm grows a variety of vegetables, raises fruit trees, and specializes in cultivating mushrooms.
Between storms, we walked bent over in rows of mixed vegetables and flowers, planted to benefit bees and butterflies, while foraging for mushrooms growing throughout the property.
“I had done a lot of home cultivation with mushrooms at the hobby level,” said Tyson. “Moving out here, I finally had my own dedicated space to do it and it pairs really well with our veggie operation. Any tree that doesn’t make it gets turned into mushroom food.”
Through combining crops and enterprises, the Stillmans are creating a tight ecological loop, on their farm, that feeds the existing ecosystem.
The abundant carbon in the old cottonwoods helps nourish the fungi that grow naturally on the old wood. Tyson processes old trees into mulch, then sterilizes and inoculates the wood chips to facilitate the growth of edible mushrooms. He inoculates the mulch on walkways with soil-loving fungi like Shaggy Mane and Wine Caps which he then harvests between his vegetables.
“I definitely noticed that [the nursery] was the perfect kind of companion to a mushroom production/small vegetable operation,”said Tyson. “There’s a lot of kinds of byproducts that are similar – a lot of wood chips and topsoil and other stuff that can be used in both systems.”
Piles of wine caps, oysters, and shaggy mane are an odd sight at the local farmer market and it’s taken a bit for the local community to brave the new crop but, when they do, there’s an excitement and week after week, folks buy more. Cooked in a little butter, they’re delish.
Anthony Pavkovich is a Communications Coordinator for Abundant Montana. He lives in Melville, MT and has worked as a herder, butcher, and ranch hand. When not working to promote local food, you can find him traversing the landscape under his own power – be it in running shoes, on skis or by bike. To better get to know his backyard, he once ran 240 miles across the region he calls home. Send him your favorite trails at [email protected].