Weeks after it gave a sustainability award to Mississippi Mushrooms, the city of Minneapolis has ordered the urban mushroom farm to be shut down by Feb. 14 because of building and fire code violations.
Mississippi Mushrooms has grown and sold edible mushrooms for five years inside a warehouse at the Upper Harbor Terminal, a large industrial site off N. Dowling Avenue. Its future was already in question because of a $200 million planned redevelopment that would bring an outdoor concert venue, retail, housing and parks to the terminal.
In addition to the code violations, city inspectors told the business that urban farming and retail is prohibited by the general industrial zoning.
Ian Silver-Ramp, the company’s president, said he did not know it was illegal to have urban farming in those districts when he first moved there in 2015. He said his team was addressing the code violations, including the lack of sprinklers, but city officials said they would begin to issue citations if everything wasn’t addressed by the next inspection.
“I definitely didn’t expect to get shut down like this,” Silver-Ramp said Monday. “I’m not going to say that we weren’t in violation of issues — we were. But I think we were also making some good-faith efforts that the fire marshal was quite pleased with.”
Erik Hansen, the city’s director of economic policy and development, said he did not know why the fire code issues were not brought up when the farm first moved into the terminal. The city plans to close the warehouse later this year to prepare for the redevelopment, he said.
“When Mississippi Mushrooms moved in, they asked to use it and they knew they were going to be in there for a temporary amount of time,” Hansen said. “I have no idea how they got in there, but it probably would’ve been something that we would’ve uncovered when they went to apply for a building permit, if they did that.”
“I think it’s unfortunate but ultimately, when there’s a fire-code violation we take that seriously,” Hansen said. “That’s the ultimate thing, to protect human life.”
Last year, Mississippi Mushrooms saw 50% revenue growth and made strides in a technology to grow mushrooms more efficiently. In December, the city awarded the farm a Green Cost Share award for installing solar panels to shrink their carbon footprint.
“This was by far our best year and I think that 2020 would’ve been better than 2019,” Silver-Ramp said. City planners had said the farm could be part of a hub for “green businesses” they’re looking to build on the terminal.
The abrupt notice to shut down changed those plans. Silver-Ramp urged city officials, including North Side council members, to change the zoning, which would have taken months. The city would not heed his request to delay the shutdown until the end of September, he said.
Now employees are growing as many mushrooms as they can before they bring down their hand-built grow rooms. The farm is likely to lose $50,000 in product and inventory and must sell its equipment, Silver-Ramp said.
“It’s very, very likely that we’re still going to have to declare bankruptcy,” Silver-Ramp said. “If we had gotten to September, there would’ve been a decent chance this would not be happening.”
Inside the warehouse Monday, two farm employees used drills to disassemble a wooden structure. Another pair, wearing white coveralls and facemasks, pulled trays of mushrooms from inside one of the farm’s grow rooms.
Customers had written messages of support on a white sheet by the entrance. “The mushroom factory has been a jewel of Minneapolis,” one person wrote. “Please reopen somewhere and let us know where. You will be greatly missed!” wrote another.