Two mushroom aficionados will soon give Richmonders a new choice for exotic fungi.
That existential mystery captivates Jake Greenbaum because humans are “really limited to about 30 different types of choice, edible fungi,” he said by phone last week. “30 choice edible fungi; millions of fungi out there.”
Greenbaum, a 21-year-old VCU student, started cultivating his own mushrooms back in 2012. A business major studying entrepreneurship, Greenbaum even went so far as to do due diligence on his fungal hobby. That led him to Chris Haynie.
“He was doing a cultivation operation in Cumberland County, an outdoor operation,” Greenbaum said. “We began talking about the cultivation industry and where we were at.”
Each had his own indoor system cultivating shiitakes, oyster mushrooms, and others out of their homes. It wasn’t long before the two discussed cultivating a joint business. “It seemed like the only natural thing to do with our background and Chris’ experience growing mushrooms in the country,” Greenbaum said.
The two will soon launch Urban Choice Mushroom Farm, billed as Richmond’s only urban gourmet mushroom farm.
Whereas Haynie’s Cumberland County farm basked in the great outdoors, Urban Choice’s production will be indoors.
“A lot of mushroom farms are outside, especially small operations, and many of these larger operations are done in Kennett Square, PA,”2 he said. “This is an opportunity for us to branch outside of that and come to a local market.”
The benefit of an indoor cultivation system is that it “allows you to control your environment much better,” Greenbaum said. “Mushrooms do not photosynthesize, so they do not feed themselves through the sunlight. They metabolize and eat of the degradation of whatever medium it’s growing off of. For us it’s going to be straw or sawdust.”
The duo are now finalizing their indoor mushroom farm at 3413 Carlton Street in Scott’s Addition. They’ve raised an 8’ x 10’ walk-in cooler, adding to it floor lights and an air system. “We should be able to pump out, hopefully, around 500 lbs. a week from [the cooler],” Greenbaum said, adding that each pound should earn $5 – $6 in wholesale value.
Urban Choice’s mushrooms will differ from the garden variety kind most are used to. “Your typical mushroom that you would find in 80 percent of the recipes and the stores around us are going to be from the Agaricus genus,” Greenbaum said, like the portobello and button mushroom. Cultivating those mushrooms require large scale productions.
“We stick with what people call exotic mushrooms,” Greenbaum said. “To the everyday person they’re mostly going to look different.” Those will include shiitakes and the oyster mushroom varietals, with the latter coming in pink, blue, brown, and white.
Mushroom lovers will have to wait a bit longer for those exotic varietals. Greenbaum said Urban Choice won’t open for another few months.
However, the duo has already agreed to sell its products at the Carytown and St. Stephen’s farmers markets once the business starts. Greenbaum said he anticipates Relay Foods and Ellwood Thompson’s will cary Urban Choice mushrooms.
And as it so happened, Urban Choice’s indoor farm sits in the same warehouse used by Rudy’s Exotic Mushrooms and Produce, a local distributor with a Whole Food’s relationship the young company wants to leverage.
Cultivating rare mushrooms isn’t the only way Urban Choice plans to tantalize tastebuds. The company’s proximity to Richmonders means fresher, better mushrooms for residents.”That’s our niche; that’s our game plan. To be able to give products to consumers more quickly than anyone else,” Greenbaum said. “To get these beautiful mushrooms into people’s mouths.”
Urban Choice Mushroom Farm is located at 3413 Carlton Street.
- Steve Haas is the man behind the mushrooms
- How A Sleepy Pennsylvania Town Grew Into America’s Mushroom Capital; NPR
Photo of Lion’s Mane mushroom courtesy of Urban Choice Mushroom Farm