Thursday, April 17, 2014

Business is mushrooming for Grand Rapids' first gourmet mushroom CSA

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Rapid Growth Media
April 17, 2014

Golden Oyster Mushrooms at The Urban Mushroom

The Urban Mushroom is bringing gourmet mushrooms to West Michigan's fungi-loving foodies. Zinta Aistars learns why growing this uber-local food is one entrepreneur's dream come true.

Josh Kruis, left, and Trever Clark, right
Occupation: Shroomologist. It’s a far cry from being a digital marketer for Yahoo! Inc., but that was the career change Trever Clark made so that he could open The Urban Mushroom for business in August 2013.

“That’s what I call myself,” Clark grins. Mycologist would be the more accepted name, if less fun. It was an idea that had been mushrooming in his imagination for quite some time, to run a gourmet mushroom CSA, or community-supported agriculture, selling shares of mushrooms to customers on a weekly basis.

The vision came to him while Clark was living in a beach house, telecommuting to his digital marketing job from Costa Rica in 2012. It’s not what most would dream about while walking sandy beaches, but in Clark’s mind, he saw fields of fungi.

He traded in the beach house for a small industrial building at 2345 Chicago Drive in Wyoming that was once used for truck repairs. The new-old building is in an industrial area, no beaches, and just inside, an old refrigerator hums behind a worn counter, surrounded by well-used and gently ripped leather couches where Clark has been known to catch a nap when pulling an all-nighter, working on spores or building equipment or composing strategy.

“This laminar flow hood, we built it ourselves,” he says as he points out a steel box used to prevent contamination of mushroom cultures. Light glows from the cabinet in the otherwise dark room and Clark’s face beams with pride. “These usually run around $20,000 commercially, but we were able to build one for around $300.”

It’s that kind of ability to build something from nearly nothing and keep the bottom line trim that Clark and his business partners, Josh Kruis and Frank Montel, along with part-time employee Richard Marmion, trust will take them to success--and quickly.

“I have a bachelor’s degree in information technology … IT,” Clark says. “But I never liked IT. I switched majors several times, but at least digital marketing allowed me to work on my own, run some websites, e-commerce, that sort of thing. It gave me the chance to experiment a little in sustainable agriculture on the side.”

Clark had attended a permaculture course in Wisconsin at some point, and what he heard, saw and learned stuck with him. Even while in Costa Rica, he kept thinking about growing mushrooms.

“I picked up some overpriced Oyster mushrooms one day, $8 for a quarter pound, and I thought: I could grow these.” He did grow the mushrooms on a piece of cardboard, then placed coffee grounds in a bucket, cloned some of the mushrooms into the mix, “and they grew!” Next, he inoculated his landlord’s compost pile, and once again, mushrooms appeared.

“This was great!” Clark says. “I can do this! So, yeah, that’s when I ..."


The photos here are by Zinta Aistars; visit Rapid Growth to view photos by Adam Bird.

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