By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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MACHESNEY PARK — Bill Springer didn’t set out to start a business when he started tinkering with growing mushrooms in his garage three years ago.
Like many people, the 46-year-old welder had newfound time on his hands because of the coronavirus pandemic. He watched videos of people growing mushrooms and decided to try it for himself.
Now, Springer and his girlfriend, Chasidy Mitchell, have parlayed a hobby into a staple at local farmers markets. You can find Iconic Fungi at Edgebrook Farmers Market, North End City Market, Rockford City Market and, new this year, the downtown Beloit Farmers Market.
The business of growing mushrooms is growing, too. A few months ago Iconic Fungi became a licensed wholesaler, and you may have tasted its product as a part of dishes at The Norwegian on Rockford’s North End.
“We hope to be in many more restaurants,” Springer said. They’re also adding an online store for delivery.
Springer, who is now a weld foreman in addition to owning Iconic Fungi, found his first customers at his job. Today he’s selling mushrooms grown in his garage fruiting chamber across the region. He’s also often tinkering with new products.
“Initially, it was just to fill some time,” Springer said. “Now it’s a big passion. It’s a lot of time researching.”
Iconic Fungi sells fresh gourmet mushrooms, dehydrated mushrooms, tinctures, mushroom jerky, powders and capsules and coffees and teas. Some of the varieties include chestnut, lion’s mane, black pearl oyster, reishi and blue oyster.
“We don’t waste a lot of mushrooms. We find ways to use most of it,” Springer said.
Many customers, Springer said, turn to the fleshy fungus for its health benefits. That’s exactly what was on Freddie Wright’s mind when the 80-year-old from Roscoe picked up a small box of lion’s mane Saturday at the Beloit Farmers Market.
“I try to eat a lot of healthy food to do what I can to keep my health up,” Wright said.
Springer said one customer found some relief from Parkinson’s disease with the lion’s mane tincture. He spoke so highly of it other members of a Parkinson’s support group started using it, too.
“It lifts brain fog and it helps with his shakes a little bit,” Springer said the customer told him. “When you get feedback from the people who purchased your products saying, ‘hey this is helping me.’ That confirms it for you.”
Springer, a 1995 Harlem High School graduate, said the name for the business was chosen quite simply: Iconic Fungi was the one that had a web domain available.
“Now I just tell people, I’m saying we’re iconic before everyone else will end up saying,” Springer said. “I hope to be iconic one day.”