According to Dr. Gary Mills, vice president for gourmet and functional foods at DNP, 56 people were hired as of Feb. 14, and 47 of them are from Mason County and surrounding counties.
Those who are hired will start work in April when the facility opens and will fill a variety of positions.
Positions include microbiology and agricultural specialists, and material handlers, and also various positions in maintenance, processing, shipping and harvesting. Mills
said the hiring process took place from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Jan. 18-Jan. 21, during which more than 700 people were interviewed.
hopes the new facility will fill the void felt by those in the area since the Chiquita bean cannery which used to run its operations in what is now the DNP facility closed in 1998.
"Many people's lives were affected by the closing of the bean cannery," Mills said."It was one of the biggest employers in the area."
According to Mills
, the cannery employed roughly 350 to 400 people, but only 50 or 60 employees were working full-time. Mills
said all the employees at the DNP facility will be full-time to start.Also, he
said, "our goal is to be successful and to expand," which means more jobs may be available in the future. Mills
said the progress of the facility, an $11 million investment, is going quickly and he
hopes to have everything ready to go by April 1.All that's really left to do, he
said, are the 'finishing touches,' such as setting up the lab and office equipment, and doing some light cleaning and painting.
added, the cover for the soil shed, which was added on to the north building, is currently under construction.
At present capacity, Mills
said the facility can produce 16,000 pounds of mushrooms per week, and if necessary, it has the infrastructure to grow four times that amount. Mills
said there are still 50 more acres available to build another plant on, in addition to the 150,000-square-foot south plant and the 95,000-square-foot north plant that are already in place.
According to Mills
, 944 million pounds of mushrooms are grown and sold in the United States every year, and of those, 901 million are button mushrooms and the rest of the 43 million are specialty mushrooms.
At the Scottville facility, Mills
said the DNP
team will grow five types of specialty mushrooms and no button mushrooms.
"We don't want to grow button mushrooms because we don't want to grow a commodity food item," which is a generic, largely unprocessed, good that can be processed and resold, usually in large quantities, he
The five types DNP will grow are morels, shiitake, oyster, poplar and cinnamon.He
believes there will be a strong market in the future for these types of specialty mushrooms.He
said people are starting to change their taste patterns in that they want to try new and different things, and are developing a tendency toward gourmet foods.
said the United States is becoming more ethnically diverse, which means more diverse taste buds.According to Mills
, 12 billion mushrooms are grown and sold worldwide.
"We're trying to get into that ethnic, gourmet niche."he
Although taste goes a long way with consumers, Mills
said there are a variety of health benefits to the specialty mushrooms that will be grown at the DNP facility.All the mushrooms at the facility offer some type of health benefit, he
said, aside from the morels, which taste excellent and are known primarily for culinary purposes.
For example, Mills
said the shiitake and oyster mushrooms contain an agent that lowers cholesterol, the poplar may be used as a pain killer and the cinnamon mushrooms contain cancer-fighting minerals.
For consumers, the important question likely is, where can I buy these mushrooms? Mills
said final plans have not been worked out with any retailers or food distributors, but he
wants to assure consumers that the specialty mushrooms will be available locally.
"No matter what happens," he
said, "if anybody around here wants some, they will be able to get them."
...At Diversified Natural Products, from left to right, Kris Berglund, PhD, Mat Peabody and Gary Mills, PhD develop and distribute a wide variety of products, including HälsoSalt® pictured below.
...Dr. Gary Mills, vice president for gourmet and functional foods with DNP, said the initial phase of the business will be to produce five varieties of gourmet mushrooms, combine them in a fresh, ready-to-cook mix, and sell the mix to restaurants which will use them in their recipes. Mills
spoke with the Daily News
about how DNP
chose the five types of mushrooms - morel, shiitake, oyster, cinnamon and black poplar.
"These five taste very good together; they go very well together," Mills said.In addition to the taste, he
said the mushrooms each have a different look and color, making the mixture of all five of them a really interesting combination. Mills
is familiar with the morel craze each spring when mushroom hunters head out to the woods in search of the most morels they can find.Morels are popular for their intense flavor, and they are one of the more expensive gourmet mushrooms in part because they are rare and difficult to find in the wild. Mills
was involved in patenting the process of growing morels indoors back around 1986, he
said."It was really luck.That's how a lot of things happen," he
said of learning how to grow the mushrooms.Since then he
has been refining the growing process and manipulating that process only enough to choose the mushrooms that will grow the best in the environment DNP will provide at the Scottville facility. He
not too concerned about people learning the secrets of the trade.
"The biggest trade secrets will be in the public domain as soon as someone walks out of that plant," Mills said."You can be competitive if you stay ahead of the game."What makes DNP's product unique is the combination of mushrooms, he
said, and the fact that at least three of the varieties are not being grown commercially yet.He
said the amount of investment and environmental controls needed to grow mushrooms on the scale DNP will is enough to deter most people from trying to compete with the company."It's not for the squeamish to go out and do these things on their own," he
As disappointing as it may be to morel-lovers, because of the intense environmental controls needed to grow all these mushrooms year-round and on such a large scale, it isn't likely any of the spores would grow outside the facility."Even if they got out, or escape, they would be as infrequent as they are now," Mills said.
Consumers may eventually be able to find the gourmet mix at a local supermarket, and will likely be able to buy it straight from the Scottville facility and online in packages of various sizes.Mills
said it would be great to have the product available at a major grocer, but keeping it stocked would require even more than the 1.3 million pounds of mushrooms the company expects to produce each year. DNP
chose the Scottville property after careful consideration and research.The company also considered the old K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base in Marquette, Mich., but that site proved less convenient than the former cannery in Scottville.
Raw materials are readily available, including water from wells on the site.The growing process will use a lot of water, though not as much as the canning facility used, Mills
said the water that filters through the plant will not have anything added to it and won't be harmful to the environment once it reaches the outdoors.
"This is just like watering your plants," Mills said."It's a leaching process."
The mushrooms will grow on what he
referred to as"logs" manufactured from hardwood sawdust, which the company will buy from local sawmills.Mills
will eventually package the spent sawdust and sell it for composting.
"We try to make everything as environmentally friendly as we can," he
said."It's a green type of technology, very efficient." Mills said once the company is established here and the growing is in full swing, DNP will push more of the "nutraceutical" aspects of the mushrooms, which he will help research in laboratories at the Scottville site.Mills
said there is incredible potential for growth in the nutritional and health benefit aspects of the mushrooms DNP will be growing.
Though it might take a while for the market for these gourmet mushrooms to develop, Mills
teammates will be busy researching and studying the properties of the mushrooms as they grow.
And as for those morels, Mills
likes them too, and he'll be out in the woods hunting them when spring comes.
"Even when I've had hundreds of them growing in a lab, it never bothered me to go out and hunt them," he
said."At the first sign of spring it's a good reason and excuse to get outside." He