By John L. Braese
VALE – Two companies are looking to reintroduce mushroom growing to the Vale area. Total investment to get the process going would exceed $40 million for mushroom factories that could create 400 new jobs.
The closest to doing so is Farmers Fresh, a Canadian company that recently bought 117 acres at the intersection of Frontier Lane and Lagoon Drive just outside of Vale.
Right behind Farmers Fresh is a Colorado businessman who is looking at reviving the property formerly known as Oregon Trail Mushroom.
All this means a major economic boost for Vale and Malheur County.
“We plan to return to Vale soon and sign the papers on the deal,” said Tan Troung, president and founder of Farmers Fresh. “We have agreed upon a price.”
Troung declined to say what the company paid for the land.
Once the papers are signed, Troung said the company already has plans to move forward immediately.
“We want to be in production by the end of 2018,” he said from his office in British Columbia. “We are working with Greg Smith to acquire incentives from the state to start production. With the U.S. dollar high, we need as many incentives as possible to get going.”
Smith is the Malheur County economic development director.
Troung said Farmers Fresh looked at the defunct Oregon Trail Mushrooms plant on the east edge of Vale as well as the site he purchased. The condition of Vale’s previous mushroom growing facility didn’t impress Troung.
“You can tell the plant has not been taken care of,” Troung said. “The risk is too high of a bad crop in a facility like that.”
Troung explained growing a commercial crop of mushrooms takes five to seven weeks. Growing in an aged facility with problems costs more than a few dollars.
“One bad crop costs millions of dollars,” he said.
By the end of 2018, Troung plans on employing 135 people. The total jumps to 200 by the time the facility is in full operation.
“This is a big step for us as a company,” said Troung. “We need to ensure everything is in place before we open and grow a crop. We plan on being in the Vale area long term and being a good neighbor and being involved in the community.”
The total investment in a Vale location is estimated to be between $15 million and $25 million, according to the company.
Last year, Farmers Fresh had sales of more $30 million. The company is the sole supplier of fresh mushrooms to food supplier Sysco while also supplying stock to numerous grocery chains. To meet just current demand, Farmers Fresh buys half its mushrooms from other farms to repackage under its brand.
To facilitate the process, Farmers Fresh buys 16,000 tons of straw from the region before shipping it to Canada. According to company estimates, the Vale facility will need approximately 35,000 tons of straw a year.
After the mushrooms are harvested, the used compost is bagged and resold to Home Depot as a garden additive.
On another front, Parvez Malik of PASM Corp. in Colorado has met with Vale city officials asking for assistance in reopening the Oregon Trail Mushroom buildings. At the meeting, Malik represented himself as a potential buyer of the aged facility and brought along a business team.
On Aug. 1, PASM announced to the Malheur Enterprise its intention to acquire and reactivate the facility.
In a press release, the corporation said plans include “renovation of the existing farm structure, upgrading the existing equipment, construction of a new growth material processing system and creation of a new system for safely capturing and handling solid waste byproducts.”
PASM is estimating creating 200 new jobs and infusing $12 million into the local economy. Annual payroll is estimate to be $6 million and an additional $7 million would be spent on local raw materials needed.
The management team of PASM, in response to a series of questions from the Malheur Enterpirse, said the company and Panbo Systems of Holland have been evaluating the existing buildings, equipment and climate control systems. They say they could start up in Vale as soon as next March.
The release also said the corporation has hired a project manager for the plant, Vaughn Paul, who has 40 years experience in commercial mushroom farming. Paul, according to PASM, has relocated to Nampa.
In addition to Paul, PASM also announced the hiring of Bob Pascovich to work as head grower once the plant is operational.
Marv Rowley, a former employee of Oregon Trail Mushroom, has been hired as the sales and marketing manager. Rowley worked in the Vale plant for 10 years.
PASM said Rowley has contacted former customers and the customers “indicated their pleasure with hearing the farm will be reopening and would commence purchasing from the farm as soon as it can deliver product.”
The company said the original Oregon Trail Mushroom plant “was considered one of the most successful in the United States” from 1998 to 2007, when it closed because of financial issues.
PASM Management has confirmed the former owner of Oregon Trail Mushrooms, Baljit Nanda will be in “an advisory capacity on an as-needed basis” with the new owners. PASM did stress the company is owned solley by Malik, a business owner with a 40-year track record starting and operating business ventures.
Like Truang, Malik is looking for state assistance to start producing mushrooms for sale to mass outlets.
Both the City of Vale and Malheur Economic Development told Malik before either would support him for state support, a number of items from the previous owner would need to be handled. This includes cleaning up the facility, repairing a broken water line falling from the Washington Street bridge, installation of a solid waste separator and payment of previous debts.
Ed Schofield, a spokesman for PASM, said that “PASM has the highest regard for the community of Vale and Malheur County and sincerely appreciates any and all support the city, county and local community can muster in bringing these plans to full and complete realization.”
PASM is banking on the geothermal water available to the plant as the successful component to the business.
“Energy is a major cost in the production of mushrooms and the availability of geothermal water reduced energy costs by 50 percent at Oregon Trail,” the company said.
Unemployment in the county currently stands at a rate of 3.9 percent. Even with the only 569 people receiving unemployment benefits, state economists say workers should be available for the new jobs.
Have a news tip? Contact reporter John L. Braese at 541-473-3377 or [email protected]