How we became mushroom farmers
Family Farm in Wisconsin
We do business as Northwood Mushrooms, but we were previously known as Cherry Tree House Mushrooms. Read on to learn how our farm got started.
First of all, why “cherry tree house mushrooms?” The name was created almost before the mushrooms were a twinkle in Jeremy’s eye. In the summer of 2008, we had really gotten into urban foraging. While walking in some neighborhood we’d see a fruit that wasn’t being picked. We’d knock on the door of the house and ask if we could pick the fruit. There was a house a block away from where we lived with a magnificent cherry tree, all neglected. Knocks (and notes) on the door went unanswered.
Fast forward about 6 months. Jeremy had gotten interested in growing mushrooms and had purchased his first 100 logs to inoculate. We found out the house we were living in was being sold and we needed to find a new place quick. The house down the street, the “cherry tree house,” was for sale. And that’s where the name came from: when talking about where we were going to go, we referred to our house-to-be as “the cherry tree house.”
We bought the house and Jeremy ended up only inoculating 50 logs that spring as there was so much work to do on the house. He quickly took over the whole side yard with pallets and racks and soaking tanks. The logs sat. And sat. And sat! Finally, one lovely September morning, we stepped outside and there were shiitakes growing!
For the first couple years Jeremy was determined to be an urban farm. He expanded into multiple neighborhood yards. We’d hit up anyone with a shady or unused yard. With 50 to 100 logs here and there throughout a couple neighborhoods, Jeremy was kept busy walking, biking, or driving around to all his laying yards to maintain logs, replace shade fabric, water, and pick mushrooms. We talked about getting some sort of land, but the needs of a mushroom farm are very different from the needs of vegetables, and all the shade needed – it’s just not as pretty from a distance as vegetables. City land is also incredibly expensive. In the end, complaints from a few neighbors and constant citations from the city for “improperly stacked firewood” forced us to find a better home.
The farm moved to Maplewood, Minnesota in 2012 to a farmer’s co-op of sorts. Grow! Twin Cities was at an old nursery site with woods, a lake, some field area, and greenhouses. It was nice to have all the logs in one place! The larger area allowed Jeremy to design a shade structure which made it easier to work with the logs. This is also when he started fruiting in large carport tents. The tents provided a good way to control humidity and regulate wind and air temperature.
We got a phone call the day after Thanksgiving in 2013 informing us that the land in Maplewood had been sold and we had till the end of the year (that is, about one month) to move! This happened to be a winter of back-to-back polar vortexes. By the first week of December there was already a lot of snow and it was EXTREMELY cold. Even so, we had many amazing volunteers who helped us wrestle out every single log and move everything to our new location in Ham Lake. Oh – and we had far more than 50 logs by now; we had a couple thousand!
We joined the newly forming Sandbox Cooperative Farm and enjoyed hanging out with other vegetable farmers, a rabbit farmer, a bunch of pigs, and hops! When our source of logs unexpectedly dried up in the spring of 2014 (giving us some spare time), we decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign to help purchase a 30 by 100-foot hoop house for fruiting mushrooms. Jeremy had been using the carport tents (and replacing them or duct taping them together) for years. But they were just too small, too breakable, and too inconvenient for the size the farm had grown to. Over 240 people backed our project and we were able to get that amazing fruiting house, which made a huge difference in the mushrooms and the farming! Jeremy also redesigned and made improvements to the shade structure.
By the summer of 2015 Jeremy was ready for his next planned farm expansion, but unfortunately there just wasn’t space at the farm in Ham Lake. It was time to move again. But with somewhere around 5,000 logs and plans to double that – not to mention a giant shade structure, hoop house, farm trailer, and loads of other equipment – we knew our next move HAD to be the last move!
We kept our eyes peeled, visited some prospects with a friend, and talked to real estate agents. We visited one particular farm on a blistering hot day in August of 2015 and really liked it. We went through a bit of a roller coaster the rest of 2015 as funding seemed possible and then not possible and then possible again, and finally in 2016 we were able to buy the farm!
We had many, many workdays and many amazing volunteers who helped us move thousands of logs and everything else we’d accumulated to the new farm in Clayton, Wisconsin.
The farm is a little over an hour from the Twin Cities and has ample room for expanded mushroom production as well as animals and other vegetables. The farm has barns, a house, and other housing, allowing several folks to live here. Since moving to the farm, we’ve expanded the size of our shade structure and in the fall of 2019 built an additional smaller hoop house to grow in-ground mushrooms.
PHOTO BY: SCOTT STREBLE
Since we’d moved away from “the cherry tree house” (and because no one could get the name right!) we also decided to change our name to Northwood Mushrooms. We like that the name emphasizes our location (in the north, in the woods) and our primary growing medium: wood.
We still have a few plans up our sleeves for improvements to the farm here and there, but we are very happy that we can stay put and not have to move all these logs again. We’ve been on this journey for more than ten years and we still think mushrooms are pretty amazing!