Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

Fungi, a new urban agriculture opportunity for South Minneapolis

Posted on 28 October 2018 by calvin

Ryan Franke (left) and Torin Dougherty, co-founders of the new urban agriculture business Backyard Fungi. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
Backyard Fungi is the brainchild of two young Minneapolis entrepreneurs: Ryan Franke and Torin Dougherty. Franke is a dedicated mycologist (someone who studies fungi), and Dougherty represents the business arm of the newly formed business. Their Backyard Partner Program strives to bring more urban gardeners into the booming Twin Cities agriculture community, and they are seeking applications from South Minneapolis residents.

“We want to promote interest in growing fungi,” Franke explained. “Our goal is to have clusters of backyard partners in different South Minneapolis neighborhoods, to provide a source for restaurants and food catering businesses in search of locally grown, organic mushrooms.”

Dougherty added, “Our 2019 backyard partners will be growing wine cap mushrooms on wood chips and shiitake mushrooms on logs. These are the types of mushrooms we’ve had the most success with.”

The requirements for acceptance as a Backyard Partner will be, at a minimum:
• Able to commit 16 hours of time for the 2019 season, primarily in the spring and fall.
• An interest in growing organic food.
• A desire to be part of a community-based model of urban agriculture.
• 75 square feet of available yard space (fenced if there is a dog).
• A willingness to communicate clearly and reliably.

Franke and Dougherty are lowering the barriers to participation so that more gardeners can be involved. They are asking participants to pay $100 toward the start-up of their backyard mushroom beds, although the actual cost is closer to $400. The Backyard Fungi business model allows them to absorb many of the upfront costs in exchange for a portion of future mushroom yields.

Fungi are not difficult to grow; they’re just different. “We’ll bring our ‘fungal knowledge’ to your backyard when we schedule your site visit, teach fungal stewardship, and provide support as needed throughout the growing season,” Franke said.

Their decentralized business model has generated a lot of interest so far. Once all of the 2019 partners are on board, installation dates will be scheduled for the spring. Partners must agree to participate in the installation of their own mushroom beds, whether they are layering wine caps into piles of wood chips or inoculating logs with shiitake spores. Mushrooms require surprisingly little watering during the growing season, maybe only four or five times. Partners are responsible for watering, and for harvesting in the spring and fall: cutting, cleaning, and refrigerating the mushrooms they’ve grown until they can be picked up for distribution.

The model for reimbursing backyard partners is called a Harvest Barter. It’s a 50/50 split between the partner who grows the mushrooms and Backyard Fungi. A person could also choose to pay the $400 installation cost in full, keep the total yield for themselves—but they would lose all the benefits of being a partner.

Franke got hooked on fungi as a kid and re-hooked when he was camping on the North Shore with his wife two years ago. Following heavy rain, mushrooms started appearing—almost out of nowhere. He said, “After that trip, I just couldn’t ignore the lure of fungi anymore. I got an ID book and started figuring out every species I could find. From there I turned to the work of Paul Stamets, one of the world’s most respected mycologists who is both an author and YouTube presenter. When I bumped into Torin, a business major I’d known when we were both students at Gustavus Adolphus College, my first question was, ‘Do you want to start a mushroom business together?’”

According to Dougherty, fungi operate as part of a resource-sharing network. They are connected to bacteria, plants, animals, and other fungi. They distribute nutrients, water, and minerals to their partners. Franke and Dougherty envision their business running in much the same way: as a resource sharing network with mutual benefits.

For more information on becoming a backyard partner with them in 2019, contact backyardfungi@gmail.com.

Minnesota conifers (cone bearing trees) support more than 50 different types of mushrooms including chanterelles, morels, and porcini—to name just a few culinary delights. A mushroom hunter should be very careful when harvesting, making sure that their identification is 100% accurate.

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