Organic Broadcaster

Mushroom grower expands business with guidance from expert-mentor

By Jennifer Nelson, MOSES

Jeremy McAdams’ mushroom business is growing with help from Joe Krawczyk, a mentor in the MOSES Farmer-to-Farmer Mentoring Program. Photo submitted

Jeremy McAdams launched his mushroom farming business, Cherry Tree House Mushrooms, in 2009 in Minneapolis, but still considers himself a beginner who’s willing to learn from others with more experience. Through the MOSES Farmer-to-Farmer Mentoring Program, McAdams has been paired with mushroom expert Joe Krawczyk, who has been involved in small-scale specialty mushroom production since the late 1980s when he helped prepare the national guidelines for certified organic mushroom production. Krawczyk has provided McAdams with valuable insights, saving him both time and money as he expands his small farm business.

McAdams has high standards for Cherry Tree House Mushrooms (CTHM). “I’ve made a special effort to build a farm business that will stay local, that uses organic practices, and that uses the least amount of embodied energy to grow our mushrooms,” he said. “We want CTHM and local mushroom production to continue for a long time in the future.”

CTHM has been growing for the past year at Sandbox Cooperative, a new farmer incubator in Ham Lake, Minn. CTHM sells shiitake, oyster, and nameko mushrooms to Twin Cities groceries such as the Seward Co-op and restaurants such as the Birchwood Cafe. McAdams also sells mushroom cultivation kits and teaches workshops.

In 2014, McAdams enrolled in the Land Stewardship Project Journeyperson Program, a two-year course that helps farmers move their operations to the next level. The Minnesota-based program works with MOSES to provide mentors to some of the Journeyperson farmers. MOSES Senior Organic Specialist Harriet Behar manages the mentor program.

“When I was trying to link up a shiitake grower with a mentor, the first person who came to mind was Joe,” Behar said. “His workshops at the MOSES Organic Conference get great evaluations based on his knowledge and ability to communicate information. I have also visited his well-run operation and couldn’t think of anyone better to help a beginning mushroom grower.”

Krawczyk and his wife, Mary Ellen Kozak, own and operate Field and Forest Products in Peshtigo, Wis. In the USDA’s book Profitable Farms and Woodlands—A Practical Guide in Agroforestry for Landowners, Farmers and Ranchers, Field and Forest Product’s website is the first website resource listed under mushroom cultivation. Aspiring mushroom growers all over the U.S. frequently call Krawczyk and Kozak with production questions, which they’re happy to answer.

“Mentoring puts you in the other person’s shoes,” Krawczyk said. “We’ve been doing this for so long, we assume everyone knows everything we do. It really makes us slow down and change how we present it. We’re still educating people, and it really benefits us; making us feel as if we’re doing something worthwhile as a company.”

When Krawczyk and Kozak began farming Kozak’s family farm land in 1983, they were committed to raising ecological awareness and improving the timber quality of their woodlands to result in the highest quality mushroom crop and spawn. Today, they are still committed to the same mission as they provide a wide variety of mushroom growing products and spawn shipped all over the U.S., and teach workshops and provide phone and email support to other mushroom growers.

Earlier this year, Krawczyk and Kozak took a “wonderful, long-anticipated trip” to Japan, learning a cutting-edge mushroom cultivation technique to share in the U.S., forming long-term business relationships, and simply enjoying Japanese culture. Krawczyk is excited to share what he learned with his mentee in the next year.

Mentor Relationship
Krawczyk and McAdams talk approximately every other week about production and business decisions. In early summer, McAdams and his wife visited Krawczyk and Kozak and felt so fortunate that the longtime, busy farmers dedicated a day to walking the mentees around the farm, teaching and answering questions. They have developed a good rapport.

“I really like Joe and Mary Ellen,” McAdams said. “It really helps to have that (positive) chemistry in the mentor/mentee relationship.” Krawczyk and Kozak are planning a visit to McAdams’s farm in the next few months.

McAdams said Krawczyk already has steered his farm in a better direction, both financially and with more appropriate production methods. From advising him not to waste time striking logs or chilling the water to helping him decide whether or not to buy packing boxes with holes, Krawczyk is a kind, but straightforward advisor to McAdams.

Like many beginning farmers, Mc-Adams has studied books that contribute to his practical knowledge of growing mushrooms. Often the books have great ideas, he said, but his mentor has practical, tried-and-true knowledge. When McAdams has had questions about competing fungi or mold, or the inevitable seasonal pest challenges, Krawczyk has advised him through a quick phone call where to focus his energy, time, and money. Some virulent strains will contaminate the cultivar, and others are not worth the worry, the seasoned grower has guided the newer one. With Krawczyk’s longtime experience, he is able to assess the situation quickly and efficiently, McAdams said.

He recalled one situation where Krawczyk’s advice saved him a lot of money and hassle. He was sterilizing all of his logs before introducing the mushroom culture. As he upped his production, he found himself spending thousands of dollars each year sterilizing logs, and was considering investing in an expensive power washer. Krawczyk talked him out of it, assuring him that log cultivation is “crude agriculture,” which doesn’t require that level of sterilization.

McAdams also has turned to his mentor for financial advice. As his small mushroom farm business grows, he has needed to adjust his prices for bigger markets. Having experienced this same business growth, and developed a vast familiarity with the industry during 32 years of cultivating mushrooms, Krawczyk is an invaluable resource for McAdams. McAdams is preparing to buy his own farm land in the next year, and has been assessing what’s available on the market. Kraw- czyk’s seasoned input in this big and often-overwhelming process is helping McAdams make the best land investment decision.

While rapport and shared vision are important qualities, both Krawczyk and McAdams agree that the key to a successful mentorship is good communication between both parties. Krawczyk claims that an essential part of any relationship is simply being able to listen really well. He asserts that rather than assuming you know what the other person is going to say, or formulating your answer in your head before hearing the speaker out, it’s essential to slow down and really listen. Krawczyk says that once he can hear a person out for a minute or two, he is able to understand their perspective and in turn, give a thoughtful, experienced answer.

McAdams appreciates Krawczyk’s accessibility—he’s able to call or email whenever he has a question. Farming is immediate work, and often a beginning farmer needs immediate help, McAdams explained. Krawczyk not only frequently advises McAdams in making wise practical decisions, he also simply listens. Sometimes all a beginning farmer needs is to be able to confide in someone who has been there before and understands. And all beginning farmers can always benefit from advice on how to save money—like not buying an expensive pressure washer that it turns out really isn’t necessary.

In addition to the mentoring relationship, the MOSES mentoring program also helps participants connect with the larger organic community. Enrollment in the program includes admission to the annual MOSES Organic Farming Conference at both the start and end of the year-long mentorship.

MOSES mentorships are available in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, North Dakota and South Dakota. The program includes admission to the MOSES Organic Farming Conference at both the start and end of the mentoring year. The application period for the 2016 program ends Nov. 5, 2015. Learn more about the Mentor Program. Find out more about Land Stewardship’s Journeyperson course at landstewardshipproject.org.

Jennifer Nelson is a MOSES Organic Specialist and a flower grower enrolled in both the Land Stewardship Project’s Journeyperson course and the MOSES Farmer-to-Farmer Mentoring Program.

From the September | October 2015 Issue

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