The Business and Science of Growing a S**t Ton of Mushrooms

by | Feb 11, 2014 | ART

Jake Greenbaum and Chris Haynie’s journey from amateur mycologists to business owners has shown them that not all art has a finite start or finish.

Jake Greenbaum and Chris Haynie’s journey from amateur mycologists to business owners has shown them that not all art has a finite start or finish.

Chris Haynie graduated Virginia Commonwealth University in 2004 with a degree in History. His passion for botany sprouted at a young age and blossomed into a full on obsession by age 22, when he first started growing mushrooms. Now 29, Haynie is an experienced mycologist and accomplished serial entrepreneur with his sights set on Richmond’s gourmet food industry.

Jake Greenbaum is a third year Business student studying Entrepreneurship at Virginia Commonwealth University. After attempting numerous start-ups here in Richmond, he is now focusing on his indoor mushroom cultivation business. Greenbaum has been growing gourmet mushrooms in his home for two years. He says that his passions are his business because business is one of his passions.

“Chris and I met each other a few months ago,” Greenbaum says, “I’m always networking and connecting with other people—its never ending. So for me mushroom cultivation just shifted from hobby to business. Chris had a previous company called Fantastic Fungi with another partner for outdoor growing. So I contacted him. We met up, got some phở, realized we were at the same place in our lives and wanted the same things, and decided to push through all the hard work and start making a shit ton of mushrooms.”

But the beginning was not instantaneous. Haynie and Greenbaum sought out other mushroom professionals for advice. They learned that some mushroom cultivation businesses existed near Norfolk and Charlottesville, but Richmond was home to no other mushroom cultivation endeavors, leaving a hole in the market.

“We’re here to make our mark,” says Greenbaum.

Currently the two entrepreneurs are examining their market, looking at properties and scoping out farmers’ markets.

In addition to providing delicious locally grown mushrooms, Haynie and Greenbaum are looking to educate people through art. “Grow kits have been commercially available for some time,” says Greenbaum, “but they are lacking innovation. They’re rudimentary. We’re looking to combine aesthetics with our kits.”

They hope to supply more options than just a polyethylene bag with a bunch of colonized substrate. Instead, Haynie and Greenbaum want to incorporate visually pleasing things—like herbs or flowers—that you can refill about once a month with substrate to produce new mushrooms every month.

You can see the two in action on Wednesday, February 12, 2014 in the Art Foundations building on Bowe Street in room 535 at 4:00pm – 5:00pm. They will be speaking to the VCUarts students in the Art Foundation program, though their reach is the entire VCU community and is free and open to anyone interested.

For any aspiring entrepreneurs, they will also explain some steps on how to start a business in Richmond. “I want to give them my recommendations, things I learned, comparisons—pretty solid practical advice,” says Greenbaum, “All the things I wish I knew at the start.”

They hope to relay what it means to create, sell, and live their passion.

Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner

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