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Mushrooms at the monastery: Mepkin Abbey monks build thriving produce business

A crop of mushrooms at the Mepkin Abbey.

Tucked away in Moncks Corner sits Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist Monastery where 14 monks live and work on the land.

The 3,000 sprawling acres are hugged by the Cooper River and manned by men of faith, like Brother John Corrigan.

A pinnacle of the monk’s faith is their love for their land.

“We've always been into agriculture into one way shape or form,” Corrigan said.

A handful of the remaining monks have used their devotion to manual labor in the name of Christ to produce a bountiful crop of mushrooms—1,600 pounds a week.

“We're growing mushrooms like nobody's business,” said Corrigan, who helped start the new crop from the ground up five years ago.

The monastery started growing mushrooms as a way to support itself, but it wasn’t an easy process.

“It took us a lot of trial and error but you really never 100 percent master it,” Corrigan explained. “There's always something new to learn.”

The huge production is done in two new growhouses, and it has been such an undertaking that the monks had to bring in an outside farmer to oversee the production.

“When the brothers show up, the monks show up, I have duties assigned to them,” said Jimmy Livingston. “So everybody comes in and goes directly to a job.”

While Livingston oversees the production, he is adamant that the monks do all the work.

They man the harvest, plant a new crop once a week and pick mushrooms every day.

It’s an advanced farming practice developed by simple men, according to Livingston.

“We took what other growers were doing,” he explained. “We tried them and figured out how we could use their methods and change them a bit so that they would work for us in the South.”

The work starts early, after morning prayer, and is essential to monastic life.

“We have prayer, we have sacred reading and we have work,” said Corrigan.

It’s labor intensive for some of the monks who are older, but it is work that keeps them connected to their storied land.

“It adds a balance to the life,” said Corrigan. “It keeps us close to Earth and keeps us in a good healthy frame of mind.”

Mepkin Abbey has partnered with wholesaler Limehouse Produce in Charleston to ship their shiitake and oyster mushrooms to specialty grocers and gourmet restaurants throughout the Lowcountry.

You can also buy dried and fresh mushrooms at the Visitors Store at Mepkin Abbey.

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