Today we’d like to introduce you to Sam Wagner.
Sam, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I spent my childhood in and around Appalachia in Tennessee. I was always fascinated with the woods, play, and understanding how to make the world more wondrous for myself and others. Growing up in a musical family, I believed that this would be my career path throughout my life and developed my first obsessions with music and experiencing every genre and instrument that peaked my interest. I eventually realized that pursuing music as a career was not was calling, though integral to my life, and studied social work at University. I worked in the social work field for 15 years and became disillusioned with the system and its ways of ensuring the class system remained intact. The system keeps the very people it serves stuck within it, discouraging upward mobility and creating barriers for its people along the way.
While still working within the social work field, I had an encounter with fungi that began to alter my path and create that childhood sense of wonder all over again. I had always been fascinated by mushrooms and fungi but had never dove down the numerous rabbit holes of exploring its story and nature of connecting the whole understory (and “overstory” for that matter). As I began to study growth mechanisms and the connections that fungi made within our world, I realized that I was being called into a new type of social work – myco-social work. I began cultivating different species of mushrooms and teaching myself mycology at my home.
I started Golden Fungi in 2021 while still working as a social worker with the mission to use mycology as a path to help with food security, restoration, and medicine. I saw that so many of our systems relied on keeping “loops” open, which kept communities in perpetual states of being disenfranchised and depressed. My goal became to close loops within our environment, myself, and show others how to close those loops as well. In 2022, I took on a business partner and a new space for cultivation and started Fallen Log Farm with the intention of using mycology to build not just a better environment for all but better people for all. We are committed to creating community and using fungi to show the world a better way to be on this planet. We are not trying to save the planet, for the planet knows the score and can take care of itself. We are here to serve the planet and live in harmony through fungal-based solutions for the degradation that we have caused to our planet and ourselves. Our vision is to create a community of farmers and other impassioned parties to create a more livable and wondrous planet.
We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
It has not been smooth. The first struggle I encountered was making the decision to quit a full-time job and take part-time work that would still pay the bills as I built my business. This meant going from working a 40-hour week to a 70-80 week to make this happen. Finding a work-life balance and any time to take a day off has been difficult. I knew from everything that I had read that starting a business would be like adopting a child; I didn’t realize how much that child was going to have all the best and worst parts of myself. That should go without saying since I was the starting the business, but figuring out how to also better myself while being forgiving of my failures, has been the biggest challenge in growing the business. When you start a business with no capital except what you have brought to the table from working a $40,000 per year social work job, you must be willing to do a different type of inner-self work. My state of mind and affairs directly reflect on the business since I don’t have the time or money to throw at it and relax. I am constantly trying to assess my own mental state and well-being so that I can build a more sustainable business and life for myself and others.
Another struggle, as mentioned above, has been that I began this business entirely self-funded. I have never been wealthy and decided to make this decision based on a calling that I felt deep within me. It would have been easy to not accept this call based on the lack of financial support; however, I have never been of the mindset that money is the point or even a “real” thing. I understand of course, that it is the rule that we have adopted as a society to exchange goods and services, and I am participating in this to build a lucrative business. I constantly struggle with the ideas behind how our money operates, how it is allocated, and how the class structure is inherit with the cash rules. I used a small amount of money from my 403(b) at my previous social work job to pay off some of the debt I accrued from starting out but have no other funding sources outside of my business partner, who is also self-funding. Another major hurdle was finding a larger space to build the business.
Obviously, farming takes space, and mushroom farming is no different. While the majority of mushroom farming can be performed indoors, this requires ample space to make this happen. I started in a 4’x8′ tent in my guest bedroom. Within that room, I also had a lab, storage, and incubation space set up. I referred to this time as playing Tetris until it was so hard it wasn’t fun anymore. In February of 2022, I met up with a friend that I knew from trail running. The topic of space for growth came up, and he offered space that he had available. In April of 2022, we incorporated as a partnership and changed our name to Fallen Log Farm. His support of work and available resources has been invaluable to get the business to its current status.
Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
Fallen Log Farm is a fungal-based farm that grows fresh mushrooms, teaches cultivation, and installs restorative agriculture projects. Our mission is to teach everyone to learn to close loops within their eco-systems and themselves. In permaculture, the main goal is to create a closed-loop system that is mutually beneficial to all of the ecology involved. Due to my background in social work, I often recognize that individuals have open loops within their own self that hinders them from begin complete and able to participate effectively in a community. Our goal is to use restorative agriculture and permaculture designs to create and drive community-based initiatives that enrich our ecosystem and each other. Currently, we produce around 30-50 pounds of mushrooms a week. We sell these to restaurants and individual customers. Additionally, we teach cultivation classes and always encourage our customers to grow food themselves.
We also produce mushroom jerky and spices.
We grow many varieties of mushrooms and have a great affinity for Cordyceps due to its medicinal properties. One primary focus is to use our food production and classes to encourage food security.
Our other primary focus is to use fungal products to restore ecosystems. We are doing this in several ways. One of the primary methods is to make bags of substrate that are full of mycelium that can be used to restore duff in the soil in wildfire-damaged areas. This same product can also be used to mitigate fires in densely wooded areas. This product also has the ability to renew contaminated water sources, sequester carbon from damaged and toxic soils in industrial agriculture, and transport nutrients all around a homeowner’s garden. We see these restorative agriculture projects and products as the most important work that we can be doing.
We have a long-term vision to create an indoor community urban garden and laboratory that focuses on education, research, and restorative agriculture. We believe that everyone should have access to create solutions that disrupt class structures and enable the whole community to thrive.
How do you define success?
I have thought of this word many times, and I believe that there is nothing more than a moment in time. If you catch that moment, you are there, living it. Once you notice it, you say, “Ah! Success!” That moment you were living before is gone, and you are now outside of it and your ego is witnessing it. So you must start over. There is nothing wrong with witnessing the moment, and there is nothing wrong with not seeing it all. This is the process of its balance, and somewhere in the midst of all of it is “success”. That is the moment in which you realize you don’t have to carry the burden, and you do it anyways.
- 3oz mushroom jerky – $8
- 1oz dried cordyceps – $60
- 1lb fresh mushrooms – $13-20 (species dependent)
- 18-20 lb Myco-remediation bags – $20
- 5lb grow at home mushroom kit – $25
- Website: fallenlogfarm.com
- Instagram: @fallenlogfarm
Fallen Log Farm logo designed by Noah Chute @noahdaysnoblenights