QUEENSBURY, N.Y. >> Jim Lewis helped keep the USS Ronald Reagan, one of America’s biggest supercarriers, sailing smoothly after graduating from the Navy’s nuclear training program in West Milton.
Although still in the Naval Reserves, his career path is taking an about face as he plans to raise shiitake and reishi mushrooms in rural Allegany County, due south of Rochester.
Lewis is one of two dozen veterans from across the state taking part in a week-long Armed to Farm course at SUNY Adirondack, which teaches vets how to pursue ventures in agriculture. The program helps them achieve personal goals, while tackling the critically serious issue of replacing today’s aging farmer population.
More than 10,000 farm owners in New York state alone are 60 or older and in many cases younger generations aren’t following in their footsteps.
“I’m a city boy,” said Lewis, a Brockton, Mass. native. “When I was getting out of the Navy I wanted to spend more time at home with my kids, so I bought a four-acre parcel of land and built a house on it, with money I saved from my re-enlistment bonus.”
Then he began trying to figure out what to do with his property, a former Christmas tree farm, and discovered that an evergreen forest is just right for growing mushrooms because of its ample, year-round shade.
Mushrooms are grown outdoors on three-foot logs, three to eight inches in diameter, which can be moved around to provide just the right amount of moisture, shade and light. Lewis has 423 logs. More than 360 are for shiitake mushrooms,…
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