One hot summer day four years ago, I helped myself to a glass of what-I-thought-was iced tea in my grandmother’s refrigerator. I had just finished mowing her lawn, and I was desperately craving something to drink. When my Grandma came in and saw what I was drinking, her jaw dropped. She laughed, and told me I was drinking a mushroom!
I was skeptical, but I was also very intrigued. Before I could even collect my thoughts enough to ask questions, Grandma started teaching me about her newfound obsession with the chaga mushroom. She explained that she had recently gone on a forest foraging trip, and learned about chaga from her guide. The guide showed a specimen of chaga growing on a birch tree, and explained its extensive medicinal benefits and history with the local indigenous people. Chaga is a parasitic mushroom that sucks the life out of birch trees. Over time, it stores the trees’ beneficial minerals and compounds into a super-concentrated conk that bursts out of the tree trunk. Due to its life cycle, chaga contains more antioxidants than ANY substance on Earth! In fact, it contains 1,360 times more antioxidants than blueberries, and 45 times more than açaí berries. By brewing chaga in hot water, its medicinal benefits become bio-available.
After the trip, my Grandma found a chaga mushroom growing on a birch tree right in her backyard! Her fanatical enthusiasm drew me in, and before I knew it, we were trekking out back across the freshly cut grass toward her proud find. As we approached the mushroom, I was startled to see that on the outside, it looked like an earthy mass of black charcoal.
It certainly didn’t look like anything I’d want to ingest. She carefully removed a piece from the tree and showed it to me. The inside of the mushroom had a bright, almost fluorescent orange color. The vibrant orange paired against the jet-black outer shell of the mushroom created a beautiful contrast, almost as if it was designed to draw your attention. She taught me that by brewing a piece of chaga in hot water, its bio-active components become bio-available. I was sold, and we went back inside to help ourselves to another cup of the tea.
That marked the beginning of our chaga hunting adventures. We made a great team. I was a spry 15 year old. I could effortlessly scale up trees to pick the chaga, and she had a vehicle and knowledge of the best spots to go looking for it! We’d take afternoons and drive down old dirt roads in areas of the Adirondacks looking for chaga. At one point, we had so much that we converted her dining room into a chaga drying area. We covered the table with drying racks filled with at least 30 pounds of chaga, and pointed fans on it from every direction. We would share it with family and friends, but it didn’t take long before we had collected more chaga than we knew what to do with.
My Grandma used to spin wool; she’d knit scarves and mittens, and take them to little craft fairs and Adirondack festivals. She encouraged me to come with her to a festival at the Adirondack Museum to try selling chunks of chaga. I packed up a scale, a poster board and marker, and as much chaga as I could carry. In about 4 hours, I had made $299 and sold out of all the chaga I brought with me. As a 15-year-old boy with that cash in my hand, I felt rich! Where else could someone my age make that kind of money? So, I started calling local farmers markets and fairs to reserve booth space to sell chaga. I made business cards, registered my first DBA for the company name Birch Boys Chaga, and dropped my summer lawn-mowing gig to become a chaga salesman.
I never would have anticipated the overwhelming amount of feedback, support, and email testimonials I received after those vendor events. There were people who claimed the chaga was giving them more energy, clearing up their skin, and even alleviating chronic pain associated with ailments such as arthritis. I realized that not only did I have an opportunity to help people, I had a tremendous opportunity to make money. That realization inspired me, and jumpstarted the motivation to launch my business. I want everybody to have the opportunity to try chaga mushroom and experience its medicinal benefits. From day one, my mission has always been to make chaga a household name.
I don’t really know how to describe why, but there is something so captivating about this mushroom. When you start drinking chaga, you tell your friends and family about it. You didn’t just start drinking a new green tea or a different flavor of chai - you started drinking CHAGA, and for whatever reason, that’s a big deal. Don’t get me wrong; there are many legitimate and proven facts about why chaga’s a big deal, but there is an underlying aura of fanaticism revolving around chaga and its drinkers. If you are one of them, you know exactly what I mean. It’s that underlying factor of erratic enthusiasm that possessed the foraging guide when he taught my Grandma about chaga, and what possessed her when she taught me. With Birch Boys Chaga, I strive to pass that on to everyone who is open-minded enough to listen.
The experiences and relationships I have built during this journey have been more incredible than any weird kid-trying-to-sell mushrooms could have ever dreamed of. And as much as I wish I could thank my Grandma (sadly, she has passed on), I know that she’d be incredibly proud if she could see what Birch Boys Chaga has become.
Today, Birch Boys Chaga manufactures chaga into Chaga tea bags, Maple Chaga tea bags, Chaga coffee, and Chaga Lip Balm. We’ve gotten our products onto the shelves of over 140 stores spanning 6 states, as well as creating an online store and selling through Amazon. We have 5 amazing part-time employees, and we have no plans of slowing down!
The goal of Birch Boys Chaga going forward is rapid growth. We plan to use the funds raised on PieShell to first pursue operational expansions. We are moving out of the basement of our facility and into the main ground level. We will be renovating and upgrading the facility into a fully functioning chaga headquarters, complete with an Adirondack retail storefront! We also want to hold true to our mission statement and continue making chaga a household name. We’ll be investing in display cases and educational materials for all of our retail partners. We don’t just want our products to satisfy our customers, we want to teach them something new and inspire them to spread chaga knowledge to their own respective networks. Finally, we are ready to pursue some health food industry titans, but we need your help. We are planning on funding a trip to Expo East 2018 in order to network and communicate with a variety of food and drink industry experts. We also hope to make the connections that can lead us to the administrative level of some companies like Wegmans or Whole Foods, for example. We are ready to go national, and we hope you will be a part of it. Thank you!