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Photo courtesy Sharon Hewitt.

Magazine | Goodbye Oklahoma

Rich Hewitt (1948-2011)

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Posted 12.17.11

Most know Rich Hewitt as “The Mushroom Man”—the guy who started a Tulsa-based mushroom business in his garage, growing hard-to-find varieties and selling them at the farmer’s market and to local restaurants. Overwhelmed by the demand for their organic, edible fungi, he and his wife chucked their day jobs to become full-time mushroom farmers. It was a success rooted in a lifetime of ingenuity.

When Hewitt was between jobs and needed to dig up some money, he went at it literally. He got a prime piece of land through a friend and spent the following summer in the mountains of Oregon mining for gold with equipment he made himself.

In a blog entry entitled “Tough,” daughter Esther Cummings said her dad “made Chuck Norris look like a cream puff,” citing her admiration for her father’s famous mining journey. “He built a stove for my mom to cook with, and they slept in tents and bathed in the river … with 5 kids in tow.”

Decades later, Hewitt made Cummings her dream wedding cake, with no prior understanding of baking. He studied with determination, practicing with varying recipes and ending up with a gorgeous and flowery treat surrounded by an edible “garden fence” constructed with ladyfingers he made from scratch.

Hewitt’s wife Sharon describes her husband with a tinge of awe:

“I don’t know exactly how he did all the things he did,” she said. “He always said it was God’s help, that he wanted to please God by helping others. He also read a lot of books and talked to the right people for advice.”

Advice came in handy when Hewitt delivered four of Sharon’s children.

“We had been going to a doctor who delivered babies the old fashioned way, right in his office. Our oldest three children were born there. When I became pregnant with our fourth, that doctor had retired, and we were disappointed. So Rich decided that he could do it at home. He had this ‘I can do it’ mentality. He talked to the retired doctor to get some pointers, and read and studied, and just did it. He delivered our last four children at home that way.”

Hewitt started his mushroom business in 2000, when he was diagnosed with skin cancer.

“He was looking into natural remedies to build his body up and fight the cancer, which is how he came upon mushrooms,” Sharon said. “He had been wanting a business of his own for a long time, and he wanted something that would be beneficial to people, not just for the purpose of making money. So he went to a seminar that showed the basics of growing mushrooms, and then he got the book from the person who gave the seminar, and he started experimenting.”

They called the business Mushroom Planet, indicative of their work environment. Hewitt transformed his basement into a farm, complete with a laboratory, growing rooms, and sterilization rooms. He started selling at the Cherry Street Farmer’s Market in 2003, then opened up to local restaurants and sold through the Oklahoma Food Cooperative.

“We were growing golden oyster, gray oyster, king oyster, lion’s mane, shiitake, maitake, and others— like reishi, which is a mushroom that is used for making tea, not for eating. It’s for medicinal purposes, for the immune system.”

Sharon says mushroom farming is a job for someone with split talents: part engineer, part scientist. The perfect role for her husband.

“He would search out biology classes to learn more. He was always interested in learning how to do things on his own, so he could share his skills with others.”

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