Making It: The Magic Behind Growing Mushrooms At Erie Shore Seed & Spore
Maker: Brandon Krystowski, owner & mushroom grower
Business: Erie Shore Seed & Spore, an urban farm in Vermilion, OH, specializing in growing a variety of mushrooms and microgreens
What sparked your interest in growing mushrooms?
I was first exposed to indoor growing of mushrooms a long time ago. I grew up building greenhouses, and we actually went to the farm for Case Western Reserve and they had a cave, a root cellar that they were turning into an indoor fruiting room for mushrooms. And while we were working, they had several six-foot-tall column bags of straw that were fruiting oyster mushrooms, and it was really fun to see them grow. And that was it for a long time. Then two Christmases ago, my wife got me a grow-your-own countertop kit, and I was totally hooked. From then on, I had to research how they grow, what they were growing off of and why it was so easy to get them to grow, because I love mushrooms. Mushrooms are delicious and they're really good for us.
Krystowski points to a cluster of golden oyster mushrooms in his fruiting room. [Natalia Garcia / Ideastream Public Media]
As you were starting Erie Shore, you were working third shift at a manufacturing facility. Was it scary giving up steady work to run your business full time?
Every two weeks I got my paycheck no matter what, and I had my health insurance and knew my job wasn’t going anywhere. Now it's that level of fear of, ‘OK, so I might not have a paycheck coming off this next week or two weeks.’ But at the same time, it's outrageously exciting because I'm now home. I get to see my family. I'm no longer on third shift. And then also it's a little bit of emotion kicking in because I'm touching on getting back to my family's roots of farming. I'm stepping into a new atmosphere, a new genre of business, being a food vendor to the culinary scene, which is huge in Cleveland. So it's extremely enjoyable.
Krystowski holds up a cluster of chestnut mushrooms. [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]
So much of starting a new business is learning as you go. What were some lessons you learned early on as Erie Shore started growing quickly?
In the beginning, we were worried about our wholesale customers, wondering, how much will they want? How frequently will they want it? One in particular had a huge order for us at the beginning of the summer, and they got 260 pounds from us in one week. So basically, a full week's production they wanted at the beginning of the week and I still had all my other customers. I had to really increase production specifically for that week and the following week, but they order from us almost every single week. And so it was doing things like that, and at first your kneejerk reaction is ‘Oh, I don't know if I can do that!’ And then you learn to stop thinking that way and go, ‘How could I do that?’ So it's a maturity level also on not being too afraid to just sit down, go through everything thinking, ‘Is this a risk or is this totally doable? What do I need to invest into it?’ And I haven't found anything yet that I haven't been able to figure out.
Golden oysters, Italian oysters, and pink oysters are a few of many types of mushrooms that Krystowski grows. [Erie Shore Seed & Spore]
Now, as it turns out, you don’t just sell your mushrooms to your customers, but you can also educate them on the different varieties?
At first we started off at our farmer's markets, and we noticed that it was very difficult for people to choose what to get, or that they would choose one and they would come back every time for just that one and they wouldn't really branch out. And there's lots of textures, lots of flavors between the different varying mushrooms, especially depending on how you make it or how you cook it. So we started making it so that we did mixes. We did a little bit of blue oysters, a little bit of shiitake, a little bit of the golden oysters, a little bit of the Italians. And that really drew people in because they got to try more than one. And then we started noticing that we were getting more repeat customers because they tried new things and they found that they liked it. So it's an education on top of a business as well.
Variety boxes ready to be sold at a local farmer's market. [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]
Describe the support from the community you’ve received on this journey of growing your business.
It's a very large support system. The chefs especially, they always tag us on social media whenever we drop off to them and they open up their boxes of fresh mushrooms. When they make their dishes, they're advertising for them, but then they're also including us and we make sure we share it. We make sure that we go and eat there and make sure that we post about it. It's a big circle, basically, in a community of people who are either growers or restauranteurs and chefs that all support each other because we all need each other. And it's fantastic. It's a lot of fun.
Krystowski and his wife, Jordan, at a local farmer's market. [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]