Cismont, Virginia
Sanctuary Steward: Mark Jones

A short drive east from Charlottesville, Virginia is Sharondale Mushroom Farm, located in Cismont, in the Piedmont and the National Historic District of the Southwest Mountains. The land in this eastern part of Albemarle County is rolling, mixed-use farm and forest with large and small landholdings. Sharondale is about seven acres and has a historic house and outbuilding built by my great-great-grandfather, who was a house builder and a wheelwright. I know this place from my earliest memories. My grandmother lived here, and our family visited during summers and holidays. My earliest garden memories of picking ripe yellow tomatoes with my grandmother, playing in the boxwood “rooms” and eating Concord grapes to the point of bursting are here, too. My history here, living and working in Cismont for the past 15 years, the beautiful landscape, and fellow villagers make this a special place.

The farm is open land around the house with cultivated forest gardens and mixed, predominantly oak hardwood forest with a spring run and small wetland. I have been building the mushroom farm since 2004, when I arrived to live here. My grandmother had the foresight to grow several heirloom plants, including peonies, magnolias, and an old apple tree. I have been cultivating a forest garden of useful perennials into which a friend plants annual flowers, herbaceous perennials, and food plants.

In addition to maintaining the old house and buildings, current conservation practices on the farm include certified organic mushroom production; a rainwater catchment pond; no-till garden planting; composting; mulching; lumber-milling from storm-felled trees; recycling; permeable access roads; equipment maintenance; and increased time in the hammock.

Sharondale Farm offers workshops and occasional tours of the farm and gardens in the spring and fall. Some of our workshop offerings for 2019 include Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms, Gardening with Mushrooms, Mushroom Log Inoculation 101, and a Piedmont Virginia CRAFT (Collaborative Alliance for Farmer Training) tour. The farm is available for private tours and workshops. We’ve had middle school students, farmer groups, and garden clubs visit.

I have close ties with the local herbalist community and know about United Plant Savers through them. In 2017, we joined United Plant Savers as a medicinal plant and mushroom sanctuary. The idea of local and regional plant repositories resonates with my belief that regional flora, fauna, fungi, and local knowledge (FFFK) of agroecosystems need sanctuary from exploitation of the capitalist kind. Development of such repositories happens primarily on small-scale farms that depend on ecological diversity for optimizing yields of food, medicine, and culture. I practice farming as a creative way to learn about Kingdom Fungi and its myriad relations to the world of FFFK. My study is the cult, culture, and agriculture of fungi.

Since starting Sharondale Mushroom Farm, I have come to appreciate more deeply the ancient relationship fungi have with our world and our culture. That is why I like to think of the farm as a fungus farm. I grow mushrooms— the fruit of Kingdom Fungi—but also work to understand fungi of all kinds and help hobby growers and small farmers develop the edge that supports diversity and resilience in their gardens, farms, and communities. This includes, for farmers, the ability to realize income from their farm byproducts and “waste”.

With increasing population pressure on forests and wildlands and changing land use, it is necessary to create citizen-driven local repositories of fungi representing landraces of edible, medicinal, and useful fungi. I’m working to ensure that Sharondale Mushroom Farm serves as a plant and mushroom (fungi) sanctuary and repository for regionally important species. We conduct ongoing research integrating fungi into agroecosystems and develop cultivation protocols for many species in our region.

At Sharondale Farm, cultivating mushrooms happens at the intersection of science and art. The farm culture bank holds more than 100 strains of gourmet and medicinal mushrooms. A few of the collected wild strains have been developed into productive food and medicine crops, and several have shown potential for bioremediation of diesel oil and hydraulic fluid, two common pollutants on small farms.

While growing mushrooms is a good business, approaching fungi from a broader perspective helps push the edge of knowledge about what is possible for our future as a species. Fungal allies co-create resilience in agriculture by improving the health of soil and crops and animals, and in our communities by providing healthy food and jobs. Our farm works to demonstrate that fungi can help heal the planet by supporting human designed ecosystems.

Sharondale Mushroom Farm is certified organic for mushrooms and mushroom spawn by Pennsylvania Certified Organic. Our facility is USDA-GAPs certified which is opening new markets for our specialty retail mushrooms. We are producing useful products with our spent mushroom substrate and developing our organic mushroom compost and vermicasting production.

Mark Jones is a farmer and mycologist, a founding member of the Piedmont, Virginia CRAFT, a member of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, and serves on the board of the Virginia Association for Biological Farming.