Gratitude Garden Farm

Mushrooms from Gratitude Garden Farm in Loxahatchee Groves.

Humble Beginnings, Growing Pains and Fungiculture

By David Rolland

Gratitude Garden Farm started because of a stroke of awful luck. The roots of it began when Joseph Chammas was diagnosed with colon and liver cancer. “It was stage 4, so it was not good,” Chammas told Atlantic Current magazine bluntly. Even worse, Joseph’s late mother died from the same type of cancer. Besides using traditional medicine to heal himself, Joseph also decided to start growing his own organic food.

“We went to a health center and learned how to grow microgreens and sprouts. We started growing on the land around our house in Deerfield. Then our neighbors wanted some of our food, too. Before we knew it, we ran out of room,” Joseph said.

Joseph Chammas of Gratitude Garden Farm.

As the cancer went into remission, Joseph decided to get even more serious about organic farming. He bought a piece of property in Loxahatchee Groves in 2013 that became Gratitude Garden Farm. Gratitude also offers educational glamping retreats in their geodesic domes. During the stay, guests can take growing classes and practice yoga while enjoying meals using ingredients grown on that very land. But, Gratitude Garden Farm’s bread and butter is being a working farm offering crops to farmer’s markets and restaurants. The unique crop that they ended up specializing in is mushrooms.

“We wanted something more challenging, so we got into mushrooms. I wish it had scared us away because it is so challenging,” Joseph joked. The foray into mushrooms started in 2014 when he began a partnership with experienced mushroom farmer Claudio Gomez. The duo could both see that there were very few local growers filling the niche, so they went to work, ultimately growing nine different varieties including Italian oysters, black king trumpet and lion’s mane.

Gratitude Garden Farm's land.

There have been plenty of frustrating growing pains along the way. “So many things can go wrong with the timing and contamination. The thing with mushrooms is you don’t know if something went wrong until it’s too late. We’re selling to 120 restaurants and all of a sudden there was a contamination, you have to cancel the orders, and start all over again,” Joseph said.

Their mushroom-growing process starts by mixing oak wood pellets, organic soy pellets, water and added nutrients and bagging the mixture. They then go to the sterilizer where the bag gets sterilized and cooked for around 24 hours. After the bags have cooled in the sterilizer for another day, they get brought to the lab and inoculated with a mushroom variety. They sit in the dark in the colonizing room for two to three weeks before they’re finally ready to go to the grow room to fruit. The results are well worth the hard work and patience in Joseph’s eyes.

Mushrooms from Gratitude Garden Farm in Loxahatchee Groves.

“There are chefs that make incredible stuff. You can also just sauté them with butter, onions and garlic, and they’ll taste delicious,” said Joseph, who is a believer in the medicinal qualities of mushrooms, though he carefully states that neither mushrooms nor any other organic food are what cured his cancer. “The reishi mushrooms are medicinal. They stop your body’s stress from attacking itself. They help with anxiety, stress, sleep problems and respiratory illness.”

He appreciates the irony that the stress caused by the rigorous process of growing the mushrooms yields something that can alleviate other’s stresses.

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