Words by Diana Crane / Photos by Emy Crane
When Jeremy McAdams studied architecture in grad school, he learned that a good building should include three fundamental principles: firmitas, utilitas, venustas. Durability, utility, beauty— growing up in Cedar County, Iowa, he may not have had many opportunities to appreciate all three at once. Thrust into the job market during the economic downturn, struggling to secure work, he eventually found those three pillars of architecture growing in his own South Minneapolis backyard.
“This one over here is called a lion’s mane.” Jeremy motions towards a log that has sprouted what looks like a little, pink pom-pom. “It tastes kind of like lobster … it has a really subtle flavor, a kind of mildness … it’s also fleshy and firm.” As it turns out, mushrooms are made out of chitin, the same polymer that helps lobsters grow shells that feel like solid, sturdy homes. Trading a career in architecture for life as a mushroom farmer makes a little more sense when you feel a lion’s mane’s perfect structure in your palm. After experimenting with growing mushrooms on logs in his backyard, Jeremy started Cherry Tree House Mushrooms on a small farm in Maplewood in 2009. “Most people grow their mushrooms indoors; I grow outside, on logs, because I believe the quality is really unparalleled… it also means I leave the smallest footprint possible on my surroundings.”
Jeremy works hard to ensure he moves in tandem with nature, and serves his community sustainably. He uses logs sourced from Northern Minnesota, as they require a lower input of energy than indoor farming methods. He also commits to shorter growing periods, beginning in June, rather than year round production in temperature controlled greenhouses.
Hanging his thumbs in faded denim pockets, and squinting earnestly out at a clearing of fruiting shiitake, Jeremy muses, ”With fuel resources becoming more and more scarce, I believe mushroom cultivation like this, and foraging are our most sustainable options.” While his focus on thoughtful growing practices often complicates his ability to establish year-round vendor relationships, he has found a bit of a niche with local restaurants, farmer’s markets and Co-Ops. “The longer I’m in business, the more I appreciate being at farmer’s markets,” Jeremy smiles softly. “I love seeing the appreciation… meeting the customers, hearing the ‘Oohs’ and ‘Aahs,’ as people sift through my offerings … I love that.”
In addition to setting up shop every Saturday at the Mill City Farmer’s Market, Jeremy shares his high quality shiitake, oyster and nameko mushrooms with local loves like Birchwood Cafe, Dan Wilder of WildEarth Wood Fired Pizza, and Ian Gray, of The Curious Goat. His produce appeals to purveyors who know that every time they lift a fork, they can make a choice to sustain the livelihoods of local, organic farmers who actively care for the environment.
Beyond selling wholesale and to restaurants, Jeremy makes a huge effort to reach out directly to conscious consumers all over the Twin Cities. He offers classes on backyard mushroom cultivation at The Seward Coop, and at the Mississippi Market. Fungi lovers can also find his morel mushroom butter and spreads, along with growing kits, at places like Egg|Plant Farm Supply, in St. Paul. “I’ve always had a passion for food and for cooking,” Jeremy notes, “I love inventing my own recipes, and showing people how versatile mushrooms can be.”
Included in his log kits, Jeremy provides step by step instructions for successful harvests. He mentions that many farmers who grow in saturated markets, like the Northwest, hesitate to share the knowledge they acquire through years of hard work and trial and error. “I’m always happy to share what I’ve learned,” he says warmly. “It’s hard enough just getting a business up and running!”
Jeremy’s life in Ham Lake, Minnesota, looks a lot different than it would have, had he continued to pursue corporate architecture. Out on the farm, the trees grow old and quiet, hop vines creep along fences, and pigs snort off in the distance. If you pull up outside his big red barn, you might have the pleasure of meeting Betty, the sweet old lady from whom Jeremy rents his land— she’s lived on the same plot of earth since 1952.
Wander up towards a clearing just a little bit North of Betty’s modest, Minnesota farmhouse; there, you might run into Jeremy, and the greatest little works of architecture anybody could hope to create.
For more stories from Diana and Emy Crane please visit Spruce Minneapolis at www.sprucempls.com