Exploring Hawaii Island: Hamakua Mushrooms

Living808

Between May 11-22, KHON2’s Wake Up 2day and Living808 are airing a special series from the Island of Hawaii. Kathy Muneno went exploring and found the joys of a staycation on Hawaii’s largest island.

Tuesday’s visit takes us to Hamakua Mushrooms, which is located in Laupahoehoe.

At 16,000-square-feet, indoors and climate-controlled, the state’s largest mushroom facility doesn’t look like a typical farm.

Founder and owner Bob Stanga purchased it in 2000, but the first mushrooms didn’t come out until 2003.

“When we first started, our first weekly harvest was about three (hundred) to 500 pounds. Now we’re averaging about 5,000 pounds per week. So it’s quite different,” Stanga said.

Workers refer to the main growing room as the Alii room, which houses both Alii and Pioppini mushrooms. “They like the same conditions,” Stanga explained.

The mushrooms are grown and stored in 1,000 mL polypropylene containers designed in Japan.

“They hold just the right amount of substrate to give us the highest yield we can get for that amount of substrate in the jar,” Stanga said.

“The grand plan was to semi-retire, and it ends up I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked before,” he joked. “It’s been quite a challenge but it’s also been very fun along the way.”

Stanga used to fly helicopters in Honolulu, which were housed in the same hangar as the police and fire department. “Every Friday night, they’d have a big barbecue at the airport and it introduced me to all kinds of local foods, and I became kind of a foodie at that point,” he said. “So I wanted to get involved, but I wanted to do something different and something that nobody else did.”

Due to the mushroom’s tough exoskeleton, Stanga says its nutritional value can only be absorbed when cooked.

“It’s hard for the human body to break that down digestion-wise without some sort of heat,” Stanga explained. “So just a little bit of heat breaks down that the exoskeleton and releases all the nutrients.”

Two years ago, the farm began offering guided tours. “We wanted people to think of Hawaii as some place other than fun in the sun, that it was a great agricultural area, especially the Big Island,” he said, “so we wanted to make people aware of it. That these kinds of operations are going on out there.”

There’s also a shop with mushroom-related products and treats, like sweet potato chips with Hamakua mushroom powder, mushroom chocolate and mushroom delight cookies.

Stanga says the response has been amazing: “People are blown away at what they see and what they’ve learned in the short time they’ve come here.”

Hamakua Mushrooms is located at 36-221 Manowaiopae Homestead Road in Laupahoehoe.

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