AUGUST 13, 2018 BY 

Adopted from a Steamboat Pilot and Today article

When it comes to a business being on the forefront of making a difference in the community, I think of Innovative Ag Colorado. The name says it all, and it is why this entrepreneurial local producer is hosting Yampa Valley Sustainability Council’s annual Sustainable Garden Tour from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Aug. 30.

If you were to visit Innovative Ag every month, Mark Berkley, founder and producer, would have new contraptions to show you and new concepts for growing mushrooms and microgreens. He has the mindset of an inventor, and he is ingenious about repurposing materials. For example, he has created a cardboard shredder from a modified lawn mower with a skill saw blade. He also reuses grain bags from Storm Peak Brewing to store his shredded cardboard. The shredded cardboard is then used to grow mushrooms. Who knew you could grow mushrooms on cardboard?

Another example of Berkley’s innovation and his commitment to recycle available materials is the next challenge he wants to conquer. He wants to build a pelletizer to compress used coffee grounds or wood chips into pellet form to power a generator to provide electricity for Innovative Ag’s operations. Berkley has also discovered that coffee grounds are a great mushroom substrate, which is any substance on which mycelium will flourish.

Innovative Ag also does their best to reduce waste. Growing mushrooms produce a lot of plastic bag waste, but Berkley is creating a new system using PVC pipe that he can then sterilize and reuse in the mushroom growing process.

Growing microgreens was Berkley’s first passion and has since grown into a flourishing business. Earlier in the summer, Innovative Ag repurposed an old greenhouse and modified it to create the optimal year-round growing climate for microgreens. Many restaurants in town serve Innovative Ag microgreens grown from various seeds, such as pea, radish and sunflower. Each has a unique flavor from nutty to spicy, and the greens provide a decorative garnish that has high nutritional value, as well as great taste.

The first part of the YVSC’s garden tour will showcase the greenhouse where microgreens and edible flowers are grown. Participants will learn about the growing and harvesting process and where you can get a taste of these products in local restaurants.

On the second part of the tour, you will learn about the complicated and controlled environment needed to grow mushrooms and Berkley’s fascinating mad scientist, trial and error process to find what works best. After the tour, Innovative Ag will be selling do-it-yourself microgreen take-home kits for $15 or mushroom kits for $25, as well as some of their products.

The Sustainable Garden Tour is sure to entertain and inspire anyone passionate about local food and gardening. Visit to purchase tickets. Adults are $25, students 13 and older are $15, and students 12 and younger are free.

Jaiya Ellis is program director for Yampa Valley Sustainability Council.