Incorporating mushroom production into an urban, outdoor, No-till, Organic farm on existing productive space.

Progress report for FNC23-1392

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2023: $3,878.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2025
Grant Recipient: McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Tristen Schultz
McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm
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Project Information

Description of operation:

Tristen Schultz is the farm manager at McLaughlin Grows Urban farm. This upcoming year will be his third season with the farm. In his time there, he has implemented a complete no-till system, succeeded in getting the farm environmentally verified, and greatly increased production and the reach of the farm. Savannah Cunningham is the assistant farm manager at McLaughlin Grows. She is a current student at Michigan State University’s Institute of Agriculture Technology and has been working with Tristen since the start of the 2022 season. She brings current agricultural industry knowledge and practices to the table. Together, Tristen and Savannah make an ideal farming team for such a unique operation. McLaughlin Grows is an urban farm, having only approximately ½ an acre of growing space. With this limited space, we produce over 100 different varieties of fruits and vegetables for the community. Tristen and Savannah are both very dedicated to constant improvement of the farm and take a lot of pride in what they do. They both very much get their hands dirty daily in a literal sense, as they are the ones doing the seeding, planting, cultivation, harvesting, washing, and selling. This truly gives them a connection to the crops and farm in a unique way.


As an urban farm, McLaughlin Grows is severely limited in growing space. We have a no-till high-rotation system that allows us to produce an incredible amount of produce per square foot. However, there are parts of the farm that are not currently productive. This includes areas shaded by large oak trees, fence lines, mulched pathways between beds, and areas around our perennial and season-long crops. As McLaughlin Grows sits in inner city Muskegon, a major food desert, one of our main objectives as an organization is to provide the best variety of fresh healthy food to our community. We feel that this currently unproductive space could be used to further provide a source of nutrition for the community. We are also always looking into how to make our system more sustainable. We feel that utilizing every production opportunity is a big step in the direction of sustainability.

Project Objectives:


These currently unproductive areas of the farm will be inoculated with mushroom spawn. The shaded areas under the oak trees and fence lines will make an ideal environment for mushrooms to grow. In these areas we will cultivate shade-loving varieties, such as oyster mushrooms and shiitakes. In our mulched pathways and perennial beds, we will inoculate the wood chips with wine cap mushroom spawn. This variety of mushroom can tolerate and even thrive in direct sun, which many of these areas receive. Among our season-long crops, such as kale, collard greens, and swiss chard, we will mulch underneath the established crops with straw. Then, using the lasagna method, we will layer oyster mushroom spawn and straw as substrate. Mushroom harvests will be weighed and recorded. In areas that will get replanted each year, leftover mushroom substrate will be used as food in our on-site vermicompost system. In perennial areas, the fungi will establish healthy mycelium that will benefit our crops and produce fruit year after year. The mushrooms we harvest will be distributed to the community via Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares, and through farmers markets. We will be able to teach the many school classes that tour the farm how to integrate mushrooms into their gardens at home, as well as into their diets and the benefits of doing so. 



  1.     Maximize the production potential of the farm by growing mushrooms in currently unproductive space.
  2.     Discover the viability of integrating mushrooms into a chemical-free no-till system.
  3.     Provide an additional food group to our community and CSA members.
  4.     Educate the community on growing mushrooms in a sustainable agriculture operation through educational field trips and social media.
  5.     Increase overall soil health.

      6.     Increase vermicomposting quality and quantity by providing the worms with spent mushroom substrate at the end of each season.

Example of our vegetable beds


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Savannah Cunningham, Ms. - Producer


Materials and methods:

We chose to implement our experiment in a no-till collard greens row. We transplanted the collards on the far side of the bed to best utilize the shade they would provide and let them establish roots in late April before mulching the bed with straw underneath the collards. After a thin mulching of straw we would add oyster mushroom spawn, mulch again, apply spawn again, and so on until a dense mulch had been achieved. In the pathway closest to the collards we laid down cardboard as a weed suppressant. We then mulched with hardwood chips, and distributed wine cap mushroom spawn. Similar to the oysters, we repeated this layering process a few times until a nice dense mulch was formed. We then watered the entire bed with an overhead sprayer until fully saturated to the first layer of substrate. 

I chose to inoculate oyster mushroom in the straw in the bed as they prefer cooler shadier conditions, and the fully grown collard plants would eventually provide that. I used wine caps in the pathway as they would likely receive some direct sun, and wine caps are a more heat tolerant species.

Research results and discussion:

Due to unexpected understaffing this project fell to the wayside after implementation and our results reflect that.  We occasionally harvested up to 10 grams of mushrooms for individuals who expressed their interest in trying them, but our yields were never high enough to support putting them in our CSAs or bringing them to market. The mulch worked excellently to suppress weeds, but mushrooms were not an active benefit of this process. 

Considering our result alone, I would say conventional mushroom production systems are much more efficient. However, had our project reviewed more care I could see that changing.

Participation Summary
2 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

2 Published press articles, newsletters

Participation Summary:

2 Farmers participated
1 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

We utilized social media to keep our followers up to date on mushroom activities. As previously stated, activities were low, so we only did this few times. Our social media following totals approximately 2,500 individuals.

Learning Outcomes

2 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Lessons Learned:

The farmer who began this project abruptly left the farm in the spring of 2023. I picked up where he left off on. However, I was extremely understaffed and the dynamics of the project had to shift. This project was always supposed to be one of passive production, but with a busy summer and little staff it became much more passive than it was intended to be. Regardless of the neglect, mushrooms were successfully produced. Not by the bucketful, or even the pound, but a few here and there that we were able to share with the community. 

Given the unfortunate staffing situation, I think my main takeaway would be that mushroom production within our farm is extremely possible, but must be given time and care to succeed. If another farmer asked for advice on a similar project, my biggest recommendation would be to have an individual staff member assigned to it who has the time to ensure its success. 

Project Outcomes

1 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
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.