Always Growing

By Joseph Hopper, Iowa Soybean Association

There’s a lot more to mushrooms than morels. A northeast Iowa farm family’s love for mushrooms and a spirit for entrepreneurship has turned growing fungi on the farm into a delicious, local food enterprise.

Every farm has a machine shed, but at one northeast Iowa farm, the farm is inside the machine shed. Tanner Sanness, a sixth-generation farmer, founded Reconnected Farms from the Dorchester family farm in 2020. Although it started small, the operation now produces approximately 300 pounds of mushrooms each week and has room to grow. It all started with a podcast discussing the health benefits of mushrooms and a desire to connect consumers with the food they eat.

“My dad and I listened to the same podcast and kind of fell in love with mushrooms,” Sanness says. “We fruited a block of mushrooms on our tabletop and then fell down the rabbit hole.”

Sanness studied marketing in college and hadn’t originally planned to follow in his father’s footsteps, a longtime farmer who grows organic row crops. But the prospects of life working in an office quickly faded as Reconnected Farms started to become a reality.


Growing the mushrooms on the Sanness farm starts with a mixture called the substrate, made of sawdust and soybean hulls. The mixture – held in a plastic bag – is hydrated with water before being sterilized and placed in the lab, where filtered air runs to ensure cleanliness. Photo Credit: Joclyn Bushman/Iowa Soybean Association

“I started about two months before COVID-19 became a really big thing,” Sanness says. “I lost my job, which ended up being a blessing in disguise because now I had all the time in the world to work on this venture.”

Each step of the growing process has its own unique space on the farm, built by Sanness with help from his family and friends. It starts with a mixture called the substrate, made of sawdust and soybean hulls. The mixture – held in a plastic bag – is hydrated with water before being sterilized and placed in the lab, where filtered air runs to ensure cleanliness. Once sterilized, the bags are opened for 10 seconds as mushroom spawn are added. Then, the bags are resealed and sent to the incubation room for about a month. The process ends at a huge, chrome semi-trailer fitted with an HVAC system. The trailer fluctuates the humidity inside between 85% and 95%, and it’s where the mushrooms fruit from their bags and are harvested.

“Mushrooms breathe just like humans do,” Sanness says. “They breathe in oxygen and give out carbon dioxide. I have to keep fresh air exchanging; otherwise, they would basically suffocate. The nice part about this space is you can go vertical with it, not just horizontally, which I think is fun.”

Flavor for everyone

There’s a lot more to fungi than the run-of-the-mill button mushrooms, Sanness says. There are thousands of edible species, which means there’s a mushroom for everyone.

“There’s a bunch of different varieties, and we just don’t eat a lot of them,” Sanness says. “Each one has a different flavor, texture, medicinal benefit and health benefit.”



Initially offering lion’s mane and oyster varieties of mushrooms, Reconnected Farms started with appearances at farmer’s markets and today can be found in restaurants and grocery stores in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Foodies won’t be able to miss these mushrooms while visiting Decorah; they’re at Toppling Goliath Brewing Co., The Rubaiyat, Twin Springs Supper Club, Kozi Pie Shoppe, Luna Valley Farm, Blazing Star, Oneota Community Food Co-op and more.

“One of the fun parts of the process is going to a restaurant and trying someone’s creation with the product you made,” Sanness says.

Some of the most popular dishes made with oyster mushrooms include roasted garlic oyster mushrooms on pizza, being paired with burgers or in stir-fries; they’re one of the more versatile mushrooms. Lion’s mane, in comparison, often serves a specialty role with certain dishes.

“A lot of people use them for a vegan seafood replacement,” Sanness says. “I like to slice them into slivers, fry them in butter and put quite a bit of garlic on them to give the lion’s mane mushrooms almost a crab like taste. The texture is similar to seafood.”

Local for life

The Allamakee County entrepreneur says there’s a lot of joy in watching farms grow. It’s something he’s seen firsthand as his father grew an 80-acre organic row crop effort into around 500 acres today. If entrepreneurship is genetic, it’s clearly been passed down. They’re both known for their out-of-the-box thinking, and they’re putting it to good use growing fungi on the farm. After contacting Woodman’s Markets, a major Midwest regional supermarket chain, Sanness found being locally grown meant Reconnected Farms could provide oyster mushrooms with double the shelf life of the mushrooms previously being shipped and sourced to those stores from Canada. 

“Finding advantages like this: little niches and growing local is huge, especially in our markets around here,” Sanness says. “We go to the sawmill to get our sawdust and get our soy hulls from our local feed store.”

 Tanner Sanness enjoys finding agricultural niches and growing local. Photo Credit: Joclyn Bushman/Iowa Soybean Association

In addition to running Reconnected Farms, Sanness also works on the family farm, at a Ferndale turkey farm and recently became a father. He’s looking forward to the day when Reconnected Farms business is the only business but explains his dream is to stay local, first and foremost, serving the area market.

“I’d like to get a lot more varieties in the stores – growing shiitake mushrooms,” Sanness says. “Keep picking up our local businesses, selling through them and diversifying. I still want to get into raising pastured animals; that’s a big project for us. We’re trying to sell some mushroom compost products; we’re talking to a company interested in buying fungal matter from us and making it into giant compost.

He adds, “Above all, my goal is being a big local food advocate in our area and hopefully finding some more free time in the future.”

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