By Ron Wilson
Mike and Amy Jensen are the only certified and inspected mushroom growers in the state of Kansas.
The Jensens own Jensen Farms and Professors Classic Sandwich Shop & More in Hays. Mike grew up on a farm northwest of Hays near the site of Yocemento. Amy grew up at Hays, went to K-State on a golf scholarship and finished her degree at Fort Hays State before the two met and married.
When he was a kid, Mike enjoyed hunting for morel mushrooms. Then he started growing mushrooms himself. His family also had a large garden but it needed pollination so they wanted bees. Mike and Amy met a farmer at Osborne who had a bunch of equipment for raising bees, and he gave it to them. They started raising bees along with the mushrooms, and it changed their perspective about healthy food.
In 2003, they bought the Professors restaurant in Hays and leased it to others to operate. Professors had been a long-time fixture in downtown Hays. As their honey production increased, the Jensens needed a storefront to serve as a retail outlet.
By 2017, Professors restaurant had closed, so the Jensens reopened it as Professors Classic Sandwich Shop & More. They also got a permit to raise mushrooms in the basement below.
To produce mushrooms, they hand-pack long plastic sleeves with pasteurized straw and cottonseed hulls. Then they add mushroom spawn, seal the sleeves and hang them straight down. "In three weeks, we'll have mushrooms," Mike said. A 10-pound sleeve will produce ten pounds of mushrooms four times in a season.
Contrary to what some may think, these mushrooms are not grown in compost or manure. Mushrooms are so unusual that, when the Kansas Department of Agriculture food inspector came for an inspection, Mike had to walk him through the process.
The Jensens specialize in oyster mushrooms, but they also produce shiitake and lions mane mushrooms. For these, the growing process is slightly different. Shiitakes are grown on blocks which the Jensens create from wood pellets, water and flour. The blocks are sterilized before spawn is added, and they are sealed for a subsequent harvest.
"Our mushrooms are medicinal as well as gourmet," Mike said. Some believe these mushrooms have anti-cancer properties and can help with Alzheimers and Parkinson's disease.
Mushrooms can clean up the environment, Amy said. They can absorb oil, for example.
The Jensens utilize their mushrooms and honey in restaurant dishes as well as marketing the product directly. A diner can get a meal or buy raw honey and dried mushrooms or both.
The restaurant menu includes a mushroom taco burger and mushroom stir fry, for example. Each sandwich comes with a homemade honey cookie. Made-from-scratch honey lemonade is one of the drink offerings. There are no fried foods or sodas. "We use as much farm-to-table food as we can get," Amy said. "We want people to know where their food comes from."
The Jensens maintain 50 to 75 beehives each year. They live on the family farm northwest of Hays near the community of Yocemento. Yocemento is now just a rural crossroads with only about five residents.
The Jensens' two kids were active in 4-H, and the family still manages the 4-H food stand during fair week. The family is environmentally sensitive, having recently decided to phase out Styrofoam packaging. "We want to be part of the solution," Amy said.