Out of the woods: Mississippi Mushrooms is growing exotic fungus in the heart of the city

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Photo by Aaron Davidson

Driving through the 50-acre Upper Harbor Terminal, located along the Mississippi River in North Minneapolis, is a navigational adventure that flusters the GPS and makes one’s car feel miniscule among the semi trucks and Caterpillar machinery.

But this is the route to the Barge Terminal Building, where Mississippi Mushrooms, purveyors of the exotic mushrooms that seem to be gracing more and more menus these days, is housed. A warehouse on a pothole-strewn street flanked by concrete domes and heavy industry is the last place one expects to find healthy, ecologically friendly, and locally grown food. And yet there they are, fancy fungus ready for their moment in the foodie limelight.

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Mississippi Mushrooms’ home may be nondescript, but the exotic mushrooms they produce are anything but // Photo by Aaron Davidson

Mushrooms have a long history in Minnesota. The Mississippi River Valley once served as a key region for mushroom growing, especially in man-made caves such as those found in St. Paul’s Riverview Cherokee neighborhood, where the low light and moist environment made for ideal button mushroom beds. But as the city encroached and efforts were focused on creating less labor-intensive farming methods, Minnesota adopted different crops to serve as its prize products. The last river valley mushroom farm closed in the 1980s when Harriet Island-Lilydale Regional Park was built.

Related Post: Caves of Mushroom Valley – Bygone Industry and Entertainment of Subterranean St. Paul

But those were button mushrooms, a different species with a different growing technique than the mushrooms being produced by Mississippi Mushrooms. Button mushrooms are grown on composted manure. In contrast, exotic mushrooms, like large-stem king oysters and spiny lion’s manes—Mississippi Mushrooms’ specialties—are wood-eating fungi.

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Ian Silver-Ramp of Mississippi Mushrooms // Photo by Aaron Davidson

The inspiration for Mississippi Mushrooms came to Ian Silver-Ramp while he was studying agriculture at the University of Minnesota. He was doing lab work with professor Robert Blanchette, an expert in forest pathology, and grew enamored with fungus because of its challenging and mysterious elements. (Note: fungus refers to the entire organism; mushrooms are the edible flowers of fungi.) Although his studies covered everything from small organic farming set-ups to large industrial operations, it was on fungi that Silver-Ramp wanted to focus his attention. The unique methods involved in the process—the reuse of materials, the potential to branch out beyond food production into fields such as recycling, medicine, and packaging—resonated with him.

To start, Silver-Ramp built a growing room in his basement and grew king oysters to sell at farmers’ markets and co-ops. Then, in 2014, a Kickstarter campaign helped him secure a location for his operation in the same complex that houses 56 Brewing, in Northeast Minneapolis. He moved to his current location this winter.

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Grow houses in Mississippi Mushrooms // Photo by Aaron Davidson

The new space is three-times larger than the Northeast spot, which gives Mississippi Mushrooms plenty of room to grow. Customized shipping containers fill the warehouse, serving as growing rooms and a laboratory. More than just a convenient way to organize his operation, the containers allow Silver-Ramp to carefully control the growing conditions for the different mushrooms—from temperature to carbon dioxide levels—from his smartphone.

Next page: A delicate process

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