Haw River Mushrooms, the visionary project of Ches and Laura Stewart, stands as a testament to the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit in the realm of fungi cultivation. For more than ten years, this small-scale mushroom farm has thrived in the region. Recently, it garnered widespread attention at the prestigious 2023 Center for Creative Economy’s Velocity Demo Day. Here, competing against a backdrop of cutting-edge ventures, Haw River Mushrooms vied for a significant $10,000 prize, aiming to expand its horizons in the increasingly vital market of value-added and alternative protein products.
Ches Stewart, once a cultivator of over 80 different vegetable varieties, alongside his wife Laura, made a strategic pivot to specialize in mushrooms. “There’s a ton of people growing lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers,” Ches explains. “We were looking for a niche product that we could grow on a small scale. So that’s what led us to mushrooms.”
The Stewarts’ farm now yields an impressive 800 to 1,000 pounds of mushrooms per week, including exotic varieties like lion’s mane, shiitake, and various oyster mushrooms. Beyond fresh produce, Haw River Mushrooms has developed an intriguing range of mushroom-based products, from mushroom coffee and jerky to lion’s mane crab cakes and umami salt.
Laura Stewart represented the business at the Velocity Demo Day in Winston-Salem, a platform that offers entrepreneurs mentorship and a chance to compete for a $10,000 prize. The program, now in its eighth year, is a crucible for innovation and business acumen, sponsored by Wells Fargo, the Arts Council of Winston-Salem, and others. “It helps you evolve as a founder,” Laura shares, emphasizing the program’s role in refining their business approach.
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