Sparta’s growing mushroom empire

It’s just the tip of the cap
Lion's mane

Photograph by Jonathan Tescher

In a cotton warehouse–turned–furniture factory in Sparta—a town almost equidistant between Atlanta, Augusta, and Macon—stand two long greenhouse frames encased in a double layer of thick plastic. Inside, where temperature and humidity are carefully controlled, Jonathan Tescher and his business partner, home furnishings manufacturer Robert Currey, are building a mushroom empire.

If you’ve never tasted—or even heard of—lion’s mane mushrooms, you’ll soon have plenty of opportunities. The native fungus is a centerpiece of Tescher and Currey’s new business, Sparta Imperial Mushrooms. Round, dense, and covered in soft spikes, the flesh is tender and slightly porous, like shellfish. The flavor hints of lobster, too. Since December, Tescher has been filling rows of aluminum racks with neat blocks of pasteurized sawdust and organic Georgia grain infused with lion’s mane spores.

Sparta Imperial is also cultivating shiitakes, with plans to offer oyster mushrooms as well as soups and stocks. Tescher, who worked previously as the farmer services coordinator at Georgia Organics, hopes to add jobs in Hancock County (its unemployment rate last year was 18 percent) as demand for his mushrooms grows. Look for Sparta Imperial Mushrooms at East Atlanta Village Farmers Market, which Tescher started in 2006, and Grant Park Farmers Market.

This article originally appeared in our April 2013 issue.