Morel Mushroom Cultivation in an Urban Setting

Progress report for FNC23-1368

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2023: $14,995.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Cultivating Bliss Farm
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Gladys Davis
Cultivating Bliss Farm
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Project Information

Description of operation:

Cultivating Bliss Farm is owned and managed by Rev. Gladys Davis. Gladys was a Chaplain prior to transitioning into farming and food production. Gladys, a single mother and survivor of domestic violence, has spent the last 14 years investigating and researching sustainable methods of food production. She began the Cultivating Bliss Farm with a 10ft by 16ft experimental farming plot, testing "straw bale" production of strawberries and asparagus in an urban environment.

Gladys lived in Chicago for 10 years before enrolling in a seminary on the Southside. Her education included an internship in a very small rural community in Eastern Oklahoma. As a Chaplain, she was employed at a transitional housing agency, providing service to homeless mothers and their children who had been in city shelters and were now progressing toward stable housing placement. She provided support to women who literally had nothing but the clothes on their backs and their children.

Gladys has lived and seen, the intentional poverty, in both rural and urban communities, created by systemic-structural oppression and knows the food insecurity wrought by an under funded public assistance program. It is these experiences that transplanted her into the field of food production; seeking the most effective, consistently affordable production methodologies for food equity and justice.


Research on morel production has begun with Dr. Gregory Bonito of Michigan State University LNC19-416: Cultivating a morel mushroom industry in the North Central United States using in-ground rows established in high-tunnel, low-tunnel and forest settings in the North Central Region. 

This project seeks to expand on Dr Bonito’s work for potential use in an urban setting, comparing the efficacy of two mediums as substate and the necessity of their sterilization in production. The project will use elevated raceways, placed outdoors, in lieu of in-ground rows, as most urban land contains lead and other contaminants.  

Financial constraints remain the major barrier of entry to farming for socially disadvantaged and historically marginalized beginning farmers. This project will compare the

We seek to investigate:
  1. Can morels be successfully cultivated in elevated raceways (simulated by elevated totes), making them a viable specialty crop choice for urban vertical stratified production?

  2. Can morels be cultivated with minimal start-up expenses, making them a viable choice for socially disadvantaged and historically marginalized farmers?

  3. Can morel mushroom production methods be replicated and scaled vertically to generate market level harvests and thereby generate profits?

Project Objectives:

Our objectives and key questions have not changed, but our design set up has. The original plan is here, for reference. We did not carry out this plan. Our new plan, for 2024, is in the Research methods section.

Plastic milk crates will be stacked on a concrete, two high and 3-4 wide to form a platform. Beds are elevated for ease of observation and harvesting while minimizing ground level contamination. Plywood sheathing panels will be placed atop the milk crates, and covered with a layer of 3mil Black Plastic before lining plot with landscaping fabric to form the base of the plots. The plastic will protect the plywood, extending the functional life of the plots, while the fabric limits erosion. Platforms will be arranged in a North-South orientation, allowing beds to receive the late morning sun, begin receiving shade at 1:00pm with complete shading attained at 2:00pm. Vita 48" W x 48' L White Raised Garden, (with dividers forming 16 quadrants) will be assembled atop the plywood. Two boxes will be assembled and joined, such that, they function as one continuous 4 x 8 foot plot for a total of 4 plots. A utility knife will be use to cut an "X" though the fabric and plastic in the center of each quadrant before a ¼" drill bit will be used to drill a drainage hole; thirty-two holes per plot. Row covers will be constructed using Greenhouse Hoops for Raised Beds and covered with shade cloth. Substrate sterilization is completed in a 100L Atmospheric Steam Sterilizer according to operation specification. 

Morchella sextelata sawdust spawn will be obtained from Dr. Gregory Bonito of Michigan State University.  Each plot will be inoculated from its own dedicated spawn block to avoid cross contamination. Investigator will wear sterile neoprene gloves and inoculate each quadrant of the plot with spawn to a depth of 4 inches in 9 evenly spaced sites via Inoculation Stick.  After inoculation, substates will be covered using a layer of Scotts Premium Top Soil to a depth of 2 inches and a layer of black plastic sheeting will be laid over the soil.

  • Plot #1 will have a substrate of purchased Mushroom Media Masters Mix. The 20 pound bags will be mixed with filtered water, to the desired consistency (hand squeeze method) and Sterilized according to equipment specifications before being placed in plot.
  • Plot #2 will have a substrate of purchased Mushroom Media Masters Mix. The 20 pound bags will be mixed with filtered water, to the desired consistency (hand squeeze method) Unsterilized.
  • Plot #3 will have a substrate of Sterilized mixed wood chips obtained from the St Louis Department of Forestry, "Free" mulch site in Carondelet Park. 
  • Plot #4 will have a substrate of mixed wood chips obtained from the St Louis Department of Forestry, "Free" mulch site in Carondelet Park. Unsterilized

One filtered water drip irrigation system will be installed to supply all 4 plots. Plots will be monitored for moisture levels and observe growth changes. Beds will be maintained between 50-60% moisture content. The black plastic row cover sheeting will be used for protection and to contain moisture during the formation of conidia. Small slits will be made every 3 feet for ventilation. 2-3 weeks post inoculation, sterile  "Nutrient bags" will be cut once using a sterile knife. Bags will be placed, cut side against the soil, every 2 feet in each plot. At this stage, the plastic sheeting cover will be replaced by hoops covered with shade cloth for improved ventilation while providing ongoing protection from contamination and predation.

Project Objective: compare fruiting body development on substrates to determine 1) which substrate produces the highest yield with the lowest production cost and  2) which substrate has commercial production viability, determined by reproducibility and scalability. 


Materials and methods:

Summary of Year One: 2023      

Due to circumstances beyond my control the location of the project, as written in the grant proposal, is no longer accessible. An alternate urban location for the research has been secured, and our budget has been updated significantly to match the new scale and set up of our trial.

We’re purchased most of the materials, adjusting to the new reality of our project being in a urban backyard setting rather than the original urban farm property. Instead of growing mushrooms in four raised beds, it’s now 8 totes. This will let us have 8 treatments.


Treatment 1: Store-bought substrate – Sterilized – With Added Nutrients

Treatment 2: Store-bought substrate – Unsterilized - With Added Nutrients

Treatment 3: City mulch – Sterilized - With Added Nutrients

Treatment 4: City mulch – Unsterilized - With Added Nutrients

Treatment 5: Tulip poplar mulch – Sterilized - With Added Nutrients

Treatment 6: Tulip poplar mulch - Unsterilized - With Added Nutrients

Treatment 7: Store-bought, fortified substrate - With Added Nutrients

Treatment 8: Store-bought, fortified substrate – No Additional Nutrients


These 8 treatments will let us ask the following growing morels in an urban setting:


  • Do morels need the fortified, sterilized soil mix? Or does it matter?
  • Can the city mulch suffice, without being sterilized?
  • Do morels need the nutrient mix? Or does it matter?

In summary, this trial will let us know: Can you grow morels with only basic supplies and materials, or are store-bought and higher cost items required for success?



  • For the city mulch treatments, we will include compost and topsoil.
  • Totes will be positioned between two garages, so will only receive full sun from 11:30am-1:30pm.
  • Once temperatures consistently reach 80 degrees, we will move them to below a deck, to simulate forest floor temperature. We will also compare single species (tulip poplar) mulch, sterilized and unsterilized.
  • In theory, MSP and NS should take off on their own, but we want to see if the nutrient solution improves outcomes.


We will quantify our results by recording data daily on:

  • Mushroom growth
  • Soil temperature, moisture, pH
  • Temperature under the deck

We will also compare the treatments based on “cost to serve” – meaning, how much did it cost to get that amount of mushrooms to the customer?

Research results and discussion:

Summary of Year One: 2023.   To date no results have been achieved.

Participation Summary
1 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

No outreach activities happened in year one of the grant. Those will happen in year two.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.