Bill and Pam Kehoe dove head first into farming nine years ago without much experience.
Bill was working in the oil industry and looking to make a career change, when his wife called one day while he was traveling in Texas for work with a proposition.
Pam had found a 32-acre bank-owned farm for sale and the price was right.
“She called me while I was away for work and by the time I got home from the trip, the deal was done,” says Bill Kehoe. “We just kind of jumped right in.”
Bill Kehoe of Udder Bliss Farm
It’s been a labor of love that has also included the renovation of the old farmhouse on the property.
“When we bought it, my first thought was we were obviously going to knock the house down and go from there,” says Bill. “But we’ve been chipping away and slowly remodeling it over the years.”
The farm has grown since 2011 and the couple now grows produce, mushrooms, yields Nubian and Jersey dairy products, eggs, as well as raises pigs and Nubian goats.
The couple just started their sixth season selling at the farmers market in Big Rapids, as well as kicking off sales in Mt. Pleasant in 2019 and the Midland Area Farmers Market in 2020.
Kehoe will produce about 3,000 pounds of mushrooms this year.
“We had a bit slower growth in Big Rapids, but in both Midland and Mt. Pleasant, we’ve seen a ton of growth and we’ve been really well-received in both communities,” says Bill.
One of the farm’s biggest sellers is their mushroom crop, something that Bill started back in 2006, after agreeing to attend a mushroom growing class with a friend who didn’t want to attend alone. Surprisingly, he took to it right away, and just as the couple bought the farm on a whim and got to work, Bill’s first pass at mushroom farming was with 800 Shitake logs after taking the class.
“I tend to be the type to trust in my own abilities more than I trust the stock market, so I just decided to try it,” he says.
Mushrooms growing on a log at Udder Bliss Farm.
Bill says the couple’s farm lends itself quite well to producing mushrooms, with a bog area that is heavily shaded and has easy access to water.
Before selling locally at farmers markets, Udder Bliss Farm sold to the Les Cheneaux Culinary School in the Upper Peninsula, to other farms as part of their CSA programs and on the farm through word of mouth, while Bill also taught classes to others on how to grow mushrooms at home.
Kehoe now grows his mushrooms both on logs and in bags, a process that involves using a fresh cut hardwood log and drilling hundreds of holes for mycelium (mushroom culture). The couple forages for mushrooms as well, but do not currently sell their foraged content due to delays in permitting from COVID-19, but plan to be certified to sell by the end of the year.
“We got started foraging several years ago after we ordered a new batch of logs for growing and found a Lion’s Mane mushroom growing in the center of one of them,” says Bill. “That sparked our interest in foraging in the wild.”
Mushroom are grown on logs or in bags of straw or sawdust.
Before starting up at the Midland and Mt. Pleasant farmers markets, Bill and Pam scoped out both, visiting for several different days throughout the season and observing what a regular market day was like.
“We went to visit both over several days in June, July and September before we made the jump to pick up another market to make sure there was enough demand,” says Bill. “Needless to say, that hasn’t been a problem and we’ve been blown away by the warm welcome we’ve received.”
For their grown varieties, Bill currently farms Golden, Pink and Aspen Oyster mushrooms, Shitake, Hen of the Woods (also known as Maitake), Pioppino, Lion’s Mane, Brown Beech, Nemeko, and Chestnut mushroom varieties.
Currently Udder Bliss Farm grows about 10 varieties of mushrooms.
For those who are trying out new gourmet mushrooms or interested in cooking with them different ways, the couple often shares recipes outside of what one normally would think of including mushrooms in – and often as the spotlight in a dish, like crab cakes made with Lion’s Mane mushroom and blackened King Oyster scallops on the farm’s Facebook page.
Kehoe says the response has been immense and very positive, with the farm regularly selling out of mushrooms at both the Midland and Mt. Pleasant Farmers Markets this summer. He estimates production is around 3,000 pounds of all varietals this year in addition to the other produce at the farm.
“For me, fun and success tend to equate in life,” says Bill. “So, it’s fun to see this though and make a living off the farm overall,” says Bill. “And for the mushroom farming, I really love talking to people about the wonders of fungus, it’s just amazing how mushrooms work.”