For anyone who has spent any length of time in Cullman County, it would be difficult to not be at least vaguely familiar with the concept of farming and agriculture. While the thoughts of a local community-focused farm might, understandably, bring to mind the area’s staple crops of strawberries, sweet potatoes, corn, or beans. But Bill Fortenberry found his way into the agriculture industry well into adulthood, and the journey that led him there was not a typical one — and neither are his crops.
Fortenberry describes the path which led him to start growing his selection of mushrooms, which he regularly sells to both local restaurants and at the Festhalle farmer’s market under the name North Alabama Mushroom, as a “pretty wild and circuitous story.” After graduating from college, he spent nearly the next three decades in the music industry as a musician, recording engineer, and sales representative with worldwide retailer Sweetwater.
While working to raise the capital needed to open a vinyl pressing facility in Athens, Ga., he found work as a chef with the vegetarian restaurant The Grit in Athens. “I cooked there for five years and found out how much I really loved cooking with mushrooms,” he said.
After spending years of 80-hour work weeks, he began to look for an exit strategy to leave the music industry. After making the move closer to his family in Eva, he said the COVID-19 pandemic presented an opportunity to research and develop the techniques needed to begin growing his own mushrooms. Fortenberry said the process is fairly complex, but with a little help from his father — who has a background in engineering working with NASA — he found “just enough” familiarity with science to teach himself the process through online forums and Youtube tutorials.
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