Pat and John Martin, a retired couple in Rixeyville, take a stab at the mysterious mushroom industry by planting their own truffiere. Here is Pat on the life of farming a luxury.
By Jennie Tai
Why did you become a truffle farmer?
“We were inspired by the truffle farms we saw in New Zealand. It proved to us that truffles can grow outside of Italy and France. Since then, we’ve always dreamed of retiring on our own truffle farm. We’d be the first to grow them in Virginia.”
Where did you learn about truffle farming?
“We’ve taken four total trips to France, learned the language and took classes that have been very helpful. We’ve also met farmers and have practiced truffle hunting in the wild with trained truffle-hunting dogs.”
What makes Virginia soil ideal for truffle growing?
“The temperature and conditions in Virginia are very similar to the area in France where black perigord truffles are grown. The soil is a bit more acidic here, but that can be controlled with agricultural lime.
There aren’t any large-scale producing truffle farmers in the United States. The demand is much higher than supply in the United States. Truffles can be sold anywhere from $800-$1,200 per pound, but it takes four years upon planting before you can have your first harvest. We had to be very patient and stay optimistic with that!”
What’s different about your farm?
“Our farm is one of the only three farms in the U.S. that inoculate their own trees. Inoculating trees with truffle spores can be tricky, and our method is secret.
We [also] have a nursery where we inoculate young trees and sell them to other potential truffle farms.”
Any advice for a new truffle farmer?
“There is a great demand for truffles, but we would never advise people to invest their entire savings into the business. Not every tree is promised to produce. We suggest anyone interested in truffle farming to talk with other farmers, to join the National American Truffle Growing Association and to be very, very patient.”
If you don’t find any truffles, what’s next?
“We planted our trees five years ago. It takes four years before they can produce truffles, and last year we didn’t find anything. We’re crossing our fingers.”