Brewing organic Kombucha in Cannon County

There is a whole lot of fermentation going on in Cannon County!

Beginning this month, Christian Grantham aims to add commercial, organic kombucha brewing to the mix. Kombucha is a fermented tea commonly touted for its health benefits.

Grantham comes not from a food background but from a media background. “In 2010, I was at Channel 2, WKRN. This was at the height of the recession, and I was getting tired of the kind of stories we were telling and feeling responsible for telling the wrong stories. I felt that the stories of criminals weren’t the stories of our viewers, they were just the easiest stories.”

“I knew the challenges we faced were in reconnecting with who we are as a country, and I wanted to tell better stories, so I quit my job in the middle of the recession,” Grantham said. “I wanted to showcase craftspeople in Tennessee using video to show what they were doing. The idea behind that was that I would sell their art and make some money doing that.”

There was, of course, little market for art, but for Grantham the stories were essential: “I knew that that was the story people needed hear—a story of people looking at what they can do, and then doing it and succeeding, despite the economy. I sincerely believe that that kind of drive was how we were going to get out of the recession.”

“So I came to Cannon County and met three artists and craftspeople, all of whom asked me if I knew Billy Kaufman, and I didn’t. I found out he was on the Rural Arts Council, so they were trying to connect me with him to find more artists, but what I ended up finding was this guy in the woods who told me he wanted to make moonshine.”

Grantham would spend the better part of the next year working with Kaufman to shepherd Short Mountain Distillery to a successful opening. “We had 15,000 visitors the first year and sold 2,500 cases of moonshine at the distillery,” Grantham said. “It was great.”

Around the time he was beginning to work with Kaufman, Grantham and his husband, Vince Oropesa, had moved from Murfreesboro to Cannon County. “I slowly started falling in love with my property. I certified it organic, and then took the opportunity to move away from working with the distillery to focusing on developing it.”

Grantham’s farm is unusual in that it is a fungus farm. “It’s taken about three years,” Grantham said, “but we’ve gotten to the point where we are making mushroom extracts, which are very successful. They ship all across the country. I grow turkey tail and reishi mushrooms, as well as shiitake.”

Mushroom farming and extract production was an accidental discovery for Grantham. He had a chance encounter with a reishi mushroom in his yard in Murfreesboro that piqued his interest in fungi, and when he moved to his farm in Cannon County Grantham began cultivating shiitake mushrooms. “I thought that would be a high price-point item we could cultivate on a small property,” he explained.

So, when his mother-in-law was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, Grantham had already been researching mushrooms for a while. “So I was familiar with medicinal mushrooms and what research was going into that. So I decided I wanted to make something for her—she was very poor, she was on state insurance and we feared she would not get the treatment she needed.”

After she passed away, Grantham said, “I thought I wasn’t going to make any more of the extract, but others were interested, and so I listed it online, and it exploded. I don’t have to market the extract—people come to me already well-researched and knowing exactly what they want.”

As of January, Grantham is moving his production into the manufacturing kitchen at the Cannon County Arts Center in the hopes of scaling up his production. “Our USDA certified organic status will allow us to get a handler certificate so then we can source organic grown in the U.S. so we can get bigger. I can then take that and invest in a larger growing facility somewhere else in Cannon County.”

The extra space is also allowing him to expand into kombucha brewing. “I’ve learned that you can’t sit on your success—you have to leverage it,” Grantham said. “So we’re preparing to produce another healthy product. With its vinegar profile along with the probiotics, kombucha can impact with gut bacteria and blood sugar levels—it has so many positive aspects that I can’t wait to share!

“Kombucha is fermented tea,” Grantham explained. “The process is thousands of years old: it’s basically sweetened tea left in an open tank to undergo surface fermentation. So what’s happening is that natural yeast will convert the sugar to alcohol, and the alcohol is then converted by a naturally-occurring bacteria into vinegar. After about fourteen days, it gets to a pH of about 2.9.”

At that point, the drink is flavored and bottled “in 64-ounce growlers that you can refill from a tap at the Cannon County Arts Center, while 16-ounce bottles will go in stores and restaurants. We will also be selling barrel-aged kombucha vinegars in 12-ounce bottles.”

Grantham’s current setup will allow him to produce 400 gallons a month, and he will be distributing his product throughout Middle Tennessee. The Stillhouse Restaurant at Short Mountain Distillery and The Wild Cow in Nashville will carry it, and a number of local food distributors will help get it to wider markets in the region.

For Grantham, giving people healthy options is a mission he takes very seriously, and he’s excited for the opportunities that the manufacturing kitchen offers him. “We’ll be taking a Tennessee staple, sweet tea, and actually making it into a healthy product that positively impacts peoples’ lives. So that fits right in with our mission, and that’s why we’re doing it.”




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