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Producing Excellence

Martin Ortiz

Kennett Square, PA

Ortiz Shiitake Mushrooms and Liberty Mushrooms

Products: Mushrooms

Size of Operation: 2.5 million pounds

In Business Since: 1999

Farm Credit Partner: MidAtlantic Farm Credit

Martin Ortiz came to America looking for work when he was just 16 years old; 25 years later, by working hard and recognizing opportunities, he’s built his own American Dream.

Martin’s first job in this country was as a mushroom picker. His employer quickly recognized his leadership ability, and after just three months of working as part of a harvest crew, Martin became a team leader. Not long after that promotion, he became a truck driver, entrusted with delivering a highly perishable crop to packers. Martin obtained permanent residency in 1987 and citizenship in 2001. During that time, his employer offered Martin another opportunity: to become an assistant grower. “That’s when I learned how to grow mushrooms,” says Martin.

When his employer gave him 50 shiitake logs – pre-inoculated logs that will produce three crop, the first after just a week in the right conditions – Martin was quick to recognize the opportunity, and in 1999, he and his wife, Norma, established Ortiz Shiitake Mushrooms, Inc. “I used to grow 5,000 or 6,000 logs a week,” says Martin, adding that Norma helped him pick and pack the Shiitake mushrooms. “I had 20,000 logs in production at one time, and we picked three pounds from each log.” At the same time, Martin also held his full-time position with a mushroom growing operation.

With financing from MidAtlantic Farm Credit, the Ortizes began to purchase additional mushroom houses to grow white button mushrooms. Those early days were busy, as Norma and Martin were raising their two young sons and Norma was doing the accounting for both businesses in addition to holding a full-time job off the farm. The hard work paid off – today, Liberty Mushrooms, which was established in 2006, has 12.5 growing rooms and produces over 2.5 million pounds of mushrooms annually.

Growing mushrooms might seem simple, but producing a healthy crop of creamy white mushrooms involves more than composted horse manure and dark rooms. Martin keeps intricate records on everything, from when the steam process started to the temperature and humidity in each room. Factors such as the time of year, air flow, moisture and pH all influence crop outcome. He must also plan the timing of his crops, which are grown in 11 or 12 week cycles, to deliver a consistent supply throughout the year and also meet peak demand around holidays.

As is the case with most agricultural enterprises, one of Martin’s biggest challenges as a business owner is labor. Picking mushrooms is hard work and it’s tough to keep employees. Norma says that Martin’s crews are hard workers, though, and enjoy working for her husband because he treats them well. “I have to make everybody happy,” says Martin with a grin that reflects his personality. “I have to make the packer happy with mushrooms, and my workers happy with a paycheck.”

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