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NEW HEBRON, Miss. - The humorous phrase "shiitake happens" pops up on T-shirts, mugs and aprons on Web sites and in kitchen boutiques, but this is where it really does. And it's fair to say the industry's mushrooming.
Shiitake mushrooms still carry the exotic label, but these are deemed "local" for chefs from Memphis to Jackson to New Orleans.
They could hardly be fresher, harvested just hours before, their gray brown caps curling over creamy white gills at Mississippi Natural Products.
September was National Mushroom Month. Martinville mushroom grower Danny Hayman counters October would be a better pick, since that's when production picks up.
"September isn't real good," he said.
At peak production, November through March, Mississippi Natural Products handles 1,400 to 1,500 pounds of shiitake mushrooms a week.
Mississippi Natural Products, formed seven years ago through Alcorn State, is now a 19-member co-op of shiitake mushroom farmers with a central facility for processing and distribution.
With five years under its belt here, its piece-by-piece renovation has turned a former Buddy Jean's plant into shiitake central.
"When we started out, we were doing 50 blocks a day. Now, we do 400 blocks a day," said Wanda Millis, president and CEO of Mississippi Natural Products.
Those "blocks" are this business' building blocks-the five-pound bags of sawdust, nutrients and spawn that can produce seven to eight crops of shiitake mushrooms apiece.