Spore and Seed, a farm in Baltimore County, Maryland, is working to grow mushrooms and flowers in a way that honors the earth.
Courtney Cohen started Spore and Seed in 2018 after spending seven years working on flower farms around the country. Although she grew only flowers at first, Cohen and her partner noticed an increasing interest in fungi among consumers. This prompted her to incorporate mushrooms into the business, which she now sells alongside fresh cut flowers and flower products.
“[Mushrooms] offered the potential for year-round income,” something that is important for farmers, Cohen tells Food Tank. But she also explains that she chose these two products because she is drawn to them both. “This is what I enjoy, it’s what keeps me interested, perplexed, frustrated, learning, feeling creative and connected, rooted in my work, and it gives me forward momentum.”
On the farm, Cohen tries to be mindful of her lasting impact on the planet. “For us, this is a two pronged approach,” Cohen says, “leaving the environment better than it was when we started and being as low impact as possible.”
To fulfill her first goal, they are investing in the land by introducing native crops. As these plants grow, Cohen explains, they can cut some for sale. But they will also create a buffer that provides wind protection and shelter to native birds and insects and help to prevent soil erosion.
Spore and Seed is also a no-till operation. They avoid heavy machinery, Cohen tells Food Tank, because it can “compact the soil and disrupt the life under the surface, erode topsoil, and increase runoff.”
While the farm’s mushrooms grow on a substrate in climate-controlled rooms, Cohen hopes to minimize the impact of this side of her business as well. “The environment is precisely controlled for the mushrooms, which means that we know the exact input of energies, and nothing is wasted,” she says. Cohen also selected a substrate made from agriculture by-products that can be composted.
To reach customers, Spore and Seed relies heavily on farmers markets, where they can connect with their local community. They also run a flower community supported agriculture (CSA) program. This gives customers an opportunity to purchase cut flowers in advance and provides the farm with payment to sustain themselves in the off season.
Although farmers markets were forced to adapt in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, “they continued to serve as an invaluable resource for communities’ access to local products, as well as some semblance of normalcy,” Cohen tells Food Tank.
During the pandemic, Spore and Seed also made grow kits available for purchase, allowing customers to grow oyster and lion’s mane mushrooms in their own homes. “Grow kits are also a great introduction to mushroom growing and the life cycle of fungi,” Cohen says. “[And] once you have a grow kit you can learn to clone and propagate to keep that mycelium alive.”
Looking to the future, Cohen is excited for the coming decades “on the frontlines of agriculture.”
“I feel really fortunate to be [farming] and also appreciate the heavy responsibility to do it right,” Cohen tells Food Tank. “Nature has provided me with the way of life I’ve always wanted and I feel thoughtfulness and reverence are the best way I can honor that.”
Photo courtesy of Courtney Cohen