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Why I Farm

Beck's Why I Farm Roadtrip: New York Farmer, Mike Bulich

Published on Thursday, October 27, 2016

Surrounded by the beautiful Hudson River and Catskill Mountains, Mike Bulich and his family raise mushrooms on their New York farm. Like many farms across the United States, a lot has changed since the Bulich Mushroom Company got its start in 1945.

 

 

“We’re the only commercial growers left in New York state.” Mike explains. “There are some hobby growers, but in terms of a seven-day-a-week operation, we’re the only ones left. New York is difficult, your regulations, your tax structures, your insurances. It’s not easy. We don’t have the margins for error like when my father was doing it. There is just no margin now for mistakes. Fortunately for us, we’ve made investments in technology in terms of the growing side of it to guarantee in some ways that we’re going to hit every time. Because if you lose a crop, it’s a significant amount of money that’s invested.”

 

 

Mike has played a big role in helping the farm adapt to change over the years. “When I was a junior in college, I came back from Christmas break and my dad was talking to me about how he was planning on shutting down the farm when he turned 62, which was only a year after I graduated college. I had quite a few job offers with some big firms in the business world. I have degree in business, minored in finance. I went there, in terms of internships, and just didn’t see myself doing it. So I talked to dad. When I graduated, my brother Mark and I went back at it, and rebuilt the whole place.”

Because their father had been planning on shutting down the farm, he wasn’t reinvesting a lot of money into the business. When Mike and Mark decided they were committed to becoming the third generation of mushroom farmers, they worked for four or five years to build newer buildings and purchase newer equipment. Now, technology allows Mike to precisely control the air, temperature and humidity inside each of the long mushroom houses on the farm.

 

 

Inside each house are layers of beds that roll up. A conveyor system fills each bed with compost, which is leveled before the house gets sealed up and sterilized at 145 degrees Fahrenheit. “That’s meant to kill all the harmful bacteria in the room. At 145 degrees you still have the microbes that process the ammonia in the compost and convert it to our nutrient base for the mushrooms. Now all these rooms are temperature and positive pressure controlled so we don’t have to use any chemicals.” says Mike.

All this technology allows the mushrooms to be harvested on a very predictable schedule. “Everything is in two week cycle. We’re picking two rooms every week. Basically six out of seven days, we’re harvesting mushrooms.” This routine allows the Bulichs to have a steady supply of  mushrooms for their wholesaler and farmers market customers. Each Wednesday and Saturday, their mushrooms can be found at the farmers market in New York City’s Union Square.

Even with the advantages and safeguards technology provides, Mike knows the importance of a strong team and good business sense. He enjoys having his children work alongside him when they aren’t in school. His brother’s kids also help on the farm. “You know when you’ve got to help, you’ve got to help. It’s a family farm. Maybe the kids will look back when they’re older and say, ‘Wow, I did have it pretty good that I was able to be around Dad and Mom and my uncles and my aunts.’ They are a lot more than other kids are able to. It means a lot. I like seeing the kids every day.” Mike smiles.

 

 

“Family farms are great and they have a leg up because of the involvement, that reluctance to fail. Or, if you fail, you get right back out there. You’ve got to get right back out there in the morning. Even if it’s a weekend, you’re right back out there to make it work. But it is a business. I don’t like to think of myself as a dirt farmer. I don’t like to think of myself as a poor farmer that needs help. I don’t. I’m pretty sharp. My brothers are pretty sharp. And we’re sharp because we know how to farm. So I’m business. I am agri-business. Success can be had by just about anybody that’s willing to work for it. Yes you can have small setbacks. You can bend, but don’t break. If there’s any lesson in farming, it’s bend, don’t break.”

At the end of the day, Mike likes the variety and independence that being a farmer gives him. “I enjoy the sense of accomplishment by producing something. I just like being able to do different things. On this type of farm, yes, we’ve got to get in there sometimes to harvest mushrooms, but then I’m in a big truck picking up manure, fixing a baler, or welding another piece of equipment. I’m doing the electrical, I’m doing refrigeration. I just like doing all these different things. I enjoy the sense of accomplishment by producing something."

That’s why Mike Bulich farms.

 

 

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