When you think of a mushroom farm, images of dark grow houses with nose-holding smells may pop into your head. But have a talk with Neumann University senior Alyssa Cuesta, and those images will quickly disappear.
Cuesta is spending her summer interning at Woodland Jewel Mushrooms in Spring City, Pennsylvania. Her duties include promoting the farm on social media and shining a light on what has traditionally been viewed as a “dark” business.
“I try to make consistent posts on the Instagram page. Creating attention through giveaway posts has helped us gain followers. I talk to my customers about what we do and sell, and that also seems to help us gain followers and buyers,” said Cuesta.
Nestled against the French Creek countryside of Chester County, Woodland Jewel is an artisanal, mushroom farm specializing in choice gourmet, exotic and medicinal varieties. The farm grows mushrooms year-round with a focus on the process of sustainable agriculture. Their customers include some of the finest chefs and restaurants in Philadelphia and the surrounding area.
“This internship is truly hands-on, and I am acquiring a vast knowledge of these mushrooms,” Cuesta explained.
In addition to promoting the business on social media platforms, Cuesta also works in the grow room. She explained that all the mushrooms are grown in bags filled with sawdust and minerals. This process, rather than using traditional fertilizers, certainly diminishes the odor at the farm.
“It’s really different than what most people think about growing mushrooms,” she said. “I stand here, and I am completely fascinated. These mushrooms are amazing.”
Cuesta has always had an interest in mushrooms and would go for walks in the woods looking for different species. She has created her own Instagram page called terraintextures where she sells handmade jewelry made with pressed mushrooms and wildflowers.
“It’s interesting learning about these mushrooms and their properties. Our mushrooms are super high-end and high quality. People usually think mushroom houses are disgusting, but not here,” Cuesta said.
Part of her internship responsibilities include updating the Woodland Jewel website (woodlandjewel.com). Cuesta is in the process of listing all the health benefits of each mushroom such as the lion’s mane, which is said to improve memory, or the oyster mushroom, which is used in wastelands to remove chemicals.
“I really wanted to do an internship with a company that has a conscience. And, I wanted to be able to use my creativity, which I can do at Woodland Jewel,” said Cuesta.
In August, Cuesta will be speaking at a “chopped event” where local chefs compete in a cooking contest using random ingredients picked from local farms. Cuesta will discuss the health benefits, interesting facts, applications, and properties that mushrooms possess.
While at Neumann University, Cuesta, a marketing major, has made it her mission to educate fellow students on the benefits on sustainable farming methods. Sustainable agriculture promotes farming practices and methods that achieve three principal results: a healthy environment, economic profitability, and social and economic equity.
“The benefit of sustainable farming is the importance of preserving our environment by using reusable and consciously designed products to further benefit our society, ecosystems, and animals. Sustainable farming also allows people to buy fresh, local, and overall healthier products. I love Woodland Jewel because we sell only to local restaurants which reduces our carbon footprint and enables us to sell the freshest mushrooms we possibly can,” Cuesta explained.
According to the Agricultural Sustainability Institute, based at the University of California, Davis campus, “In addition to strategies for preserving natural resources and changing production practices, sustainable agriculture requires a commitment to changing public policies, economic institutions, and social values.”
“My focus is on green and sustainable marketing. I am really focused on the environment,” Cuesta said. “At Neumann, I’ve been working to educate students on industrial farming and show them how we can switch to sustainable farming.”