Sharondale Farm is a Certified Organic farm located in Cismont, just off Rte 231, about 12 miles east of Charlottesville. The farm has its roots back to 2004, when owner Mark Jones began with 60 mushroom logs in the woods behind his home. Today the farm operates on 7-plus acres of partially wooded land, with a 1,728 square foot building for growing mushrooms under climate controlled conditions.
The farm produces more than 20 varieties of gourmet and medicinal mushrooms including oyster, lion’s mane, bear’s tooth, chestnut, pioppino, reishi, portobello, and shiitake. It also sells mushroom teas and medicinal powders; provides mushroom spawn to hobbyists and farmers; conducts high-quality workshops on cultivating mushrooms and microbes intended to advance the art of organic farming and soil fertility; and works with small farms to assist with diversification into the mushroom growing business.
Mark started the farm in 2004 following a career designing and building outdoor living spaces and encouraging people to grow food in Portland, Oregon. Mark moved to his family’s homestead near Charlottesville that’s been in his family for five generations. He rents the house and property his great-great-granfather built. His great-grandfather raised 13 children there, and was the local postmaster, general store owner, and a local chicken farmer. Mark’s intention is to honor the legacy of his forebears and live out his life on the property. The farm is named after his grandmother's favorite flower, the Rose of Sharon.
Mark is a self-taught mycologist and now speaks widely on the subject of growing gourmet and medicinal mushrooms. His speaking topics include low-input mushroom and microbe growing for small farm diversification and resilience; fungi that contribute to agroforestry and support natural resource management plans; intercropping mushrooms in the food forest for production of food, medicine, and soil fertility; and collecting local strains of mushrooms that have potential as food, medicine, and earth healers.
Mark and his farm have been active participants in the farming community. Sharondale Mushroom Farm is a founding member of the local Piedmont chapter of CRAFT (Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training). CRAFT farms host interns from other local farms so interns can see different production methods, and farmers can identify potential young farmers with whom they would like to work and retain in the region. Sharondale Farm was a founding member of the Firsthand Farmers Cooperative, comprising five farms, which operated for two seasons as a CSA. Mark has been working with the non-profit Local Food Hub in Charlottesville since its inception in 2008. The farm is certified organic by PCO, USDA Harmonized GAPS inspected, VDACS inspected, and they participate in VDACS Virginia's Finest marketing program as the only mushroom grower. Learning these compliance systems has provided Mark a better understanding of legal food production compliance, so he’s better prepared to counsel other small farms about the actual time and financial investment needed to comply with these programs.
Mark has served on the board of the Virginia Association for Biological Farming and is spearheading efforts to cultivate relationships with other farm organizations (PASA- Pennsylvania Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, FHCASA- Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, NOFA-NY - Northeast Organic Farmers Association of New York, CFSA - Carolina Farm Stewardship Association) in order to support and develop regional innovative farming practices and farmer-to-farmer training.
The 0% Nurture Capital Loan Sharondale Farm received from Slow Money Central Virginia in January 2019 was used to purchase a variety of equipment to help the farm become more efficient and ultimately diversify its business. This included an automatic volumetric bagging machine to replace hand-scooping substrate into production bags. It also included a bag tumbler to improve the post-clean room process. The bag tumbler mixes mushroom spawn into the sterilized substrate. Previously, the farm crew had to shake the bags by hand, which takes a lot of manpower than can be devoted to other tasks.
Below are some photos and videos of the bag tumbler machine and volumetric bagger installed in April 2019: