One of this week's feature items is a package of fresh mushrooms from one of our new favorite growers, Erie Shore and Spore in Vermillion. We talked to Brandon, the farmer, a couple months ago about lining up a harvest of shrooms to go with this week's meatloaf themed bag. He said sure thing, and now we have them.
I must admit though that I had never been to Brandon's grow rooms. Last year when we first started working with us, he came to our warehouse to show us his fungi. So in prep for this week's bag, one of our team members, Zach, drove out to Vermillion and did an interview with Brandon. Zach is very knowledgeable about gardening and regenerative ag, so I figured him and Brandon could spar on the technical aspects of growing mushrooms.
I then asked Zach to take a stab at telling the story. I found Zach's story quite informative and witty, so with minor edits, here is Zach's adventure in his own words. BTW, I had to google Valhalla, which made me smile and start to chuckle uncontrollably as I'm sure it's an accurate description of the labyrinth of grow rooms.
A Trip to Erie Spore and Shore. As told by Zach Devitt
Walking up to Brandon Krystowski’s home, the mastermind behind our wonderful mushroom supplier Erie Shore Seed and Spore, I was greeted by the friendliest group of chickens you’ll ever meet. After saying hello to Zorro, the handsome collie, I shook hands with Brandon. Brandon is tall, has a great smile and a kind voice.
The very first thing he wanted to show me was his basement, AKA “the mushroom dungeon”. Upon entering the basement, you will find three separate rooms crafted out of green house plastic, hooked up to humidifiers and ventilation systems. And inside those three rooms you’ll find yourself transported to mushroom lovers Valhalla. Every possible square foot is occupied by modular shelving, populated by beautiful fruiting mushrooms.
On the day that I was there, three different varieties of mushroom were occupying Brandon’s grow rooms.
1) Lions’ mane, the fuzzy snow balls that you might recognize from your special orders
2) Blue Oysters, not like the cult, but the large disc shaped fungi with a pleasant grey blue hue
3) Golden oysters, the flamboyant cousin of the blue oyster.
Brandon first learned about growing mushrooms as a young man working for his father’s green house building company. While working on a contract for Case Western, Brandon saw his first blue oyster grow operation. The next day when he came back to work, was the day that he learned that oyster mushrooms DOUBLE in size every day during the fruiting process. That experience stuck with him and when he and his wife, a culinary instructor, were looking for a way to diversify their income in December 2019, those fast-growing blue oysters came back to him.
His wife, being a gourmand, had zero objections to growing the coveted species of mushroom that many chefs would relish the chance to pluck directly from the substrate. By January 2020 they were enjoying their first batch of oyster mushrooms from a countertop grow kit.
By March of 2020, Brandon and his family were "uprooted" by the pandemic and at home with extra time. As they were staring down the barrel of a pandemic, with a side of copious uncertainty, they realized that one thing was booming - their mushroom business. They found themselves selling mushrooms at farmers markets around northeast Ohio, and they found themselves selling out at these markets. Brandon was harvesting all the mushrooms he could between shifts working at an injection molding facility. Which is difficult because unlike a tomato, which will still be quite edible if left ripe on the vine overnight, once mushrooms are ready for harvest you only have a couple of hours to grab them before they start dropping spores, which will drastically reduce their shelf life.
Under the guidance of a fellow local shroom farmer, Brandon was able to garner a new list of clients (including Fresh Fork Market!). By January of 2021 Brandon was able to leave his position in manufacturing to pursue farming full time and spend more time with his wife and daughter.
That is from inception to full time farmer in just 1 year!
Brandon wants to continue to grow his seed and spore business while indulging in his passion for things that grow, and even things that decompose. All of his substrates are recycled into his garden compost - fully completing the beautiful cycle of death and rebirth that mushrooms are meant to occupy in this world.
I asked Brandon what his favorite mushroom was, and he looked at me like I asked him to choose between his dog and his chickens. When politely pressed however, he admitted that his favorites to grow are the “Black King” oysters, and his favorite to eat are the Lion’s Mane for the nutritional variety that they offer.
Brandon’s Parting words of advice, “Buy Local! It gives you the most bang for your buck when trying to affect positive change in our country and community.” I couldn’t agree more!