Local business ‘mushrooming’ with farm-to-table products

Clayton operation looks to expand into Dayton.

David Sparks has never been a mushroom hunter, but began growing them about three years ago.

“It began as a low-tech mushroom grow operation – I’d always had a garden and am a beekeeper, but was looking to do something full time outside of the multimedia, digital development for business I was doing,” he said.

“I did a lot of research and my wife, brother-in-law and I starting growing them in an outbuilding behind our home on the Clayton family property. We thought there might be promise in a farm-to-table mushroom business. I had a friend who was a chef, and I saw an opening if we worked hard.

“Mushrooms are fascinating, a fungi related to all other plants, and so many varieties. But the common mushrooms in local stores are button mushrooms, most grown in Pennsylvania and shipped all over the world, so they need a longer shelf-life.”

In addition to the full-time family founders, Guided by Mushrooms has three part-time workers, “and we’re pretty much maxed out and want to produce and sell more, get our part-time staff on full time, and create even more jobs.”

Their business goes beyond the many varieties of mushrooms grown, which include shitake, lions mane, oyster, speckled chestnut and others that change seasonally; they produce mushroom products – gourmet butter, spices, extracts, honey and more. They began selling their products at Shiloh Church’s Saturday Farmer’s Market until the COVID-19 shutdown, but are now selling at the Second Street Market on Saturdays, several restaurants, eight grocery stores including Dorothy Lane Market and Jungle Jim’s, alternative health food stores, and on their website, guidedbymushrooms.com.

“A bunch of different businesses in the community support urban agriculture,” Sparks said, noting that their present location is just a few miles outside the city limits.

Credit: Guided By Mushrooms

Credit: Guided By Mushrooms

“Mushrooms are fascinating; they’re healthy superfoods and have so many facets – they feed people and feed the earth. We go beyond just mushrooms for the table, and are looking at health purposes. And mushroom operation waste is a primary decomposer, a supercharged compost.”

A native Daytonian, Sparks is now looking to expand into North Dayton, and is exploring the Five River Oaks Council (FROC) area, which makes Sandy Fredrick, vice-chair of the FROC Priority Board, happy.

“I was worried about their waste products, but am glad to hear that it makes good compost,” she said. “There’s a big interest in neighborhood farming now, and we started a garden on Main Street, which is managed by Homefull, so this operation could be helpful – both operations could serve one another.

“So far, neighbors are supportive and any new business in the area is of interest,” she said. “I love the growing aspect and am working with the city on follow-up – if it brings people to this community, that’s good, and we need something different.”

“We want to get the neighborhoods on our side,” said Sparks. “We wouldn’t want to do this if people in the area didn’t want it, but we’d be helping local gardeners with our mushroom waste for their gardens, show them how it becomes compost, and let them know that the strength of our business is variety.”

A number of buildings along North Main are empty and a few would make potential sites for the operation, but Sparks notes “there are challenges with expansion of urban farming into the city. No one seems to know what to do with it zoning-wise.

“We’ve been looking around the area for locations, and of course, we’d need inspections - we’re looking for a place where we can just move in and start growing mushrooms.”

Sparks will be giving a presentation about the proposed expanded mushroom farm operation to FROC residents on Sept. 8 at 6 p.m., and will answer questions they might have. The meeting will be held at Fairview United Methodist Church at the corner of W. Fairview and Catalpa avenues.

Contact this writer at virgburroughs@gmail.com.

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