Brandon and his wife, Jordan Krystowski, began growing mushrooms right before COVID hit really hard. Erie Shore Seeds and Spores started out as a part-time gig because Brandon and his wife were already growing their vegetables. Jordan is a culinary instructor at Lorain County Joint Vocational School in Oberlin, Ohio, where she originally went to school. Brandon was working the third shift in the factory as a process engineer and supervisor. The couple was looking for additional income and a way to grow into their own business. Brandon wanted to get away from production and the factory. He wanted to be back outside growing things, so he started cultivating mushrooms as a hobby.
They started gradually with one Farmers Market at the weekend just for some extra money to pay for itself. Cleveland has a big food scene, so it very quickly turned into a full-time business. Even during COVID. Erie Shore kept getting noticed. “Restaurants and CSA (community supported agriculture) programs started reaching out to us requesting boxes of mushrooms each week. And within a year, I ended up going full-time. I started it in January of 2020, and by January 1 of 2021, I left my salary job and became a full-time mushroom farmer.” Brandon loves his new job! He worked 60-70 hours per week in the factory on the third shift. Brandon hardly got to see his wife and kids. They would go to bed and be all tucked in, and then he had to go to work. It was terrible. Now he gets to go to bed with them every single night.
The Krasowskis exceeded their expectations, busted out of the seams, and expanded into a second location in less than two years. In 2021 they started planning to grow around 150, maybe 200 pounds of mushrooms a week. Instead, as they slowly ramp back up to full production, they are around 200 to 300 pounds. They plan on getting even bigger, probably 400 to 500 pounds per week coming this summer.
The secondary location is where Brandon completes the first two fungi cultivation, inoculation, and incubation steps. The process starts with an incredible machine used to fill the grow bags. “But this is a nice little bagging contraption that my dad and I built right here.” This device will take and combine proper portions of hardwood sawdust and soybean haul pellets with water. Then the perfect mixture dispenses a pre-weighted portion. “It’s super, super fast compared to how I originally used to do it. I used to do everything by hand and measure it out, which was really slow. Once I started picking production up, my dad and I looked around in some research and figured things out. And then we ended up just kind of fabricating this one on our own.”
He will take 24 10 lbs. Substrate bags, place them in a steam barrel and cook them at 200 degrees for 20 hours to make sure they are extra sanitized. “It will kill off any bacteria, and you can’t contamination anything that the mycelium would have to compete against to colonize the bags.” Brandon will put the piping hot bags in a cleanroom to cool in preparation for inoculation.
In that sterile encapsulated inoculation space, he eliminates contamination by using a HEPA filter to pump “air in so it’s all positive pressure keeps the bad stuff out,” equipped with another flow hood inside, which is to help scrub the air that’s already in there. He works in a sterile environment misting his hands and regularly cleans all tools and surfaces with an isopropyl alcohol-based sanitizer. This kills off any bacteria or potential mold, giving the mushrooms the best chance of taking hold. “It’ll actually finish cooling them off pretty quickly. And then they’re clean; they’re in a cleanroom. It’s all inoculated with whatever they’re going to be growing in. I’ve got my HEPA filter and my flow hood in our little inoculation area right here. Bag sealer. These are bags about to be inoculated. We’ve got six-pound grain spawn bags for Lion’s Mane right here. I get all my grain spawn from North Fork, which is up in Maine. They just got certified organic, so that’s pretty cool, especially because the prices didn’t change at all. So that’s even better for me. Then I just I open it up and activate it, seal it with the bag sealer tumbles it up, and then it’ll go in the room behind you.” Because of Bardon’s extra sanitary techniques, he has only had five contaminated bags in two years.
The third room is a dark incubation room where the inoculated bags rest and the mycelium get ready to fruit. He and his father created this room out of a wood frame lined with industrial black tarps. It may take anywhere from a few weeks to six months for various varieties to be ready for fruiting. Once the block is prepared, it is then transported to his second location where the mushrooms actually grow, he and his wife harvest and package the fungi.