VERMILION, Ohio — The floor of Jordan and Brandon Krystowski’s home, in Vermilion, Ohio, is the ceiling of their mushroom and microgreens farm, Erie Shore Seed and Spore.
On a Thursday morning, after working the night shift for a manufacturer, in Wellington, and delivering mushrooms to a restaurant in Bedford, Brandon shows off the mushrooms growing out of bags on shelves in the basement.
Chestnut mushrooms are great for fall soups, with a nutty flavor and stems that stay crunchy after cooking. Lion’s Mane mushrooms may have health benefits. Oyster mushroom spores are aggressive — he has to be careful to keep them out of the main part of the house, where they could degrade wood.
The basement is divided into four spaces; two fruiting rooms, each more than 600 cubic feet, and an incubation room for the mushrooms and a small corner for Jordan’s microgreens, which don’t need as much space. A gate at the top of the stairs keeps the Krystowski’s two children, Caiden, 3, and Rowan, 1, and their dogs from wandering down.
It’s been that way since January of this year, when the Krystowskis decided to start their farm. In the basement, Brandon said, he has enough room to grow 400 pounds of mushrooms per week. Brandon hasn’t had to grow that many mushrooms yet. But the business is growing.
“The ultimate goal would be for me to do this full-time,” Brandon said. “I enjoy it enough.”
Brandon and Jordan have always had a garden and backyard chickens. Caiden and Rowan already love helping with the family garden.
Brandon grew up around his grandfather’s and uncle’s farm animals and tractor dealership. Jordan has a culinary background and currently teaches culinary arts for Lorain High School. But this is their first farming venture.
Though they started their business this year, the story starts 10 years ago. Brandon’s dad builds greenhouses, and he was working for him. They were hired to put in walls and a filter system for a mushroom farm in a root cellar, at Case Western Reserve University.
While working on the job, Brandon was struck by the way the mushrooms grew. They doubled in size every day.
Then, last year, Jordan got Brandon a grow-your-own mushrooms kit that only had to be soaked in water, set on a counter and misted twice a day. He was always talking about mushrooms, so she thought he might enjoy it.
“It was the coolest thing ever just to see it grow,” he said.
After that, Brandon dove headlong into researching mushrooms. In early 2020, as they started working on their own farm, he took an online course from two mushroom farmers in Britain.
Growing mushrooms has a learning curve. Though they started working on the farm early in the year, they weren’t ready to start selling until May. It takes time to figure out the right ratios of substrate and water to add to the bags, and to get the humidity right, and the mushrooms need time to grow.
“It was a very involved process that I needed to learn,” he said. “It was a lot of trial and error … and then it just kind of clicked one day.”
Microgreens, on the other hand, are simple, Jordan said. Jordan stacks the seed trays in a dark part of the room under bricks for a few days to encourage them to germinate. Then, she moves them under lights and waters them. It takes about 11-15 day in total to grow them.
“It’s a lot faster,” she said.
The problem solving process of growing mushrooms is what draws Brandon to it.
“I’m a very mechanically minded person, which is why I think growing mushrooms comes to me easily,” he said.
Brandon’s manufacturing job involves finding out what is going wrong if parts start coming out wrong, and fixing it. He does the same thing with mushrooms.
While he likes his current job, he wants to farm full time. Right now, he’s essentially working two full time jobs.
Jordan plans to stay at her teaching job, but in addition to growing microgreens, she helps with packaging and marketing for the farm. She also gives out recipe books with the mushrooms.
“I came into the industry understanding the need for high end products,” she said.
Despite the pandemic, this year turned out to be a good time to start a farm. Jordan switched to working from home in March. Brandon was off work for a few weeks at the beginning of the pandemic. So, they had more time to get the farm started.
The online course Brandon took had a Facebook group for people who had taken the course. This spring, people asked members of the group who had mushroom farms if it was a bad time to start their farms.
“[The answer] really was, ‘no, we’re actually seeing an increase in our sales,’” Brandon said.
With more people staying home and avoiding grocery stores, looking for local food and focusing on health, there was plenty of demand for local mushrooms and microgreens.
But there isn’t much local competition for mushroom farms.
Brandon thinks that’s down to the difficulty of growing mushrooms. It’s an involved process, and with the marketing and business side added onto that, it would be a lot for one person to take on.
Up until recently, there was one other mushroom farm only a few minutes away — Broadcap Mushroom Farm. But despite their close proximity, the two farms never had to compete with each other. With Cleveland nearby, there was plenty of business for both of them.
Broadcap Mushroom Farm closed recently, and the owner, Myia Blocher, gave the Krystowskis her customer list and sold her equipment to them at a discount. She knew them through a local food Facebook group, and could tell that they were passionate about farming.
“My biggest concern was my customers,” Blocher said. “I didn’t want to leave them without access to mushrooms of the same caliber.”
Passing the customer list and equipment on to the Krystowskis was a no brainer.
“I had equipment I needed to sell, and I was much more interested in helping farmers whose values are in the right place than I was in making a profit,” she said.
That helped the Krystowskis’s business grow faster than expected. They sell to restaurants and at a farmers market on the weekends. They also just joined Fresh Fork Market, a CSA based in Cleveland. Once Brandon switches to farming full time, they are planning to add a second market during the week.
Brandon’s parents have offered their own basement if they need more space, down the road.
But for now, they have plenty of room, and they like having the farm right under their feet.
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