They harvested what they could in the final days.
Delicate oyster mushrooms, shaggy lion’s mane, earthy shiitake, bright orange nameko, black pearls, pioppinos.
All the varieties that had helped Mississippi Mushrooms turn a drafty old warehouse on the riverbank into a thriving urban farm.
Owner Ian Silver-Ramp had hoped for more time. Time to coax a few more harvests out of all those sacks of spores and substrate, stacked high on shelves he and his small staff built themselves. Time to find a new location and start over.
But the lease was up, the property was below code, and the landlord — the city of Minneapolis — has big plans for the land.
The North Side’s Upper Harbor Terminal Project hopes to turn 48 acres of rust, weeds, crumbling storage domes and one big drafty warehouse into gleaming new homes, businesses, parks, paths and a multimillion-dollar riverfront amphitheater.
Mississippi Mushrooms wasn’t part of those plans.
So Silver-Ramp, his staff and his customers are making new plans.
Mississippi Mushrooms is closing, but their landlord/hometown is giving them a little more time to sell off their equipment and the hundreds of pounds of mushrooms they just harvested. Silver-Ramp, who had been braced for bankruptcy, has been bombarded with offers to help him find a new location or help his staff relaunch the company as a co-op.
Maybe, just maybe, Mississippi Mushrooms will survive. Maybe it could even stay in business in Minneapolis — a city that gave the company an award for its green and energy-efficient business practices right before it gave notice that it was terminating their lease in 30 days.
“The city could have made it easier for us than this very abrupt transition,” Silver-Ramp said.
There’s a place for businesses like Mississippi Mushrooms in the Upper Harbor Terminal plan: the green business hub. But the hub doesn’t exist yet and the city-owned warehouse where Mississippi Mushrooms was doing business isn’t a hub for anything but citations from angry city fire and code inspectors.
“It’s not a great building,” said Erik Hansen, the city’s director of Economic Policy & Development, who was looking at a $500,000 bill just to bring the warehouse up to code. There’s no heat. The sprinkler system is wonky. It needs a new roof. And while many of those problems are fixable, he said, “we just cannot ignore the fire code.”
When fire and building inspectors finally came through, they found so many violations, Minneapolis might have to fine itself for being a negligent landlord. The property, it turns out, isn’t even zoned for urban farming. Even if the city had tried to keep its tenants in the building, the fire inspectors likely would have shut down the whole place next month, Hansen said.
Mississippi Mushrooms was only meant to be an interim tenant — a business that could make use of the building and bring in a little rent money for the city while the Upper Harbor planners made their plans.
But the grim inspection results cut the short-term stay even shorter, so the city, Hansen said, is trying to help find the farm a new home. There’s a possible spot in northeast that might work; there are a few city-owned community gardens that might have space for temporary mushroom tents.
“We’re trying to find any option we can to find them a spot,” Hansen said. “We don’t want them to go out of business. We didn’t want to displace them. But it was an inevitability.”
The city believes in a brighter future for the rusting old barge port on the banks of the Mississippi River.
Silver-Ramp believed in that future too, enough to set up shop in an area where almost no one else was doing business. He and his staff hauled away the garbage, painted murals, planted flowers, installed solar panels on the roof, hosted farmers markets and concerts to draw newcomers to the neighborhood, and invited local students in for tours to learn more about urban farming.
“It’s a little frustrating, because I feel like we’ve really cleaned up the site a lot,” said Silver-Ramp, who watched city officials squire visitors around the site, making their pitch for the project that was about to put him out of business.
One of the featured stops on the tour was the pavilion in front of Mississippi Mushrooms, built with a neighborhood renovation grant Silver-Ramp won, on ground that used to be covered with garbage and weeds.
“They brought everybody there to do their photo op and to talk about how this is their top priority for the city of Minneapolis,” he said. “I asked, in front of everybody, ‘What’s the city going to do about Mississippi Mushrooms? We built a business here.’ ”
That anxiety runs through every public meeting about the Upper Harbor Terminal Project. The people who live and work on this side of the North Side want to know whether they fit in the city’s big plans.
At Mississippi Mushrooms that day, the visitors snapped their photos and left. Silver-Ramp is hoping to have news to share about the company’s future soon.
For now, you can still buy Mississippi Mushrooms remaining stock through their website: mississippimushrooms.com.