Mushroom Farming Research and Education to Bring Greater Equity and Diversity to the Food System

Final report for FW21-380

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2021: $25,000.00
Projected End Date: 04/01/2022
Host Institution Award ID: G312-21-W8613
Grant Recipient: Zoom Out Mycology
Region: Western
State: Oregon
Principal Investigator:
Bashira Muhammad
Zoom Out Mycology
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Project Information

Summary:

Many aspiring farmers are unable to afford the capital costs of land, infrastructure, and equipment needed to start an agricultural operation. Mushrooms represent a high-dollar, specialty product that require low inputs and minimal equipment and infrastructure. Arid climates in much of the West make outdoor mushroom cultivation challenging. However, Reishi mushrooms, which require burying for cultivation, have a minimized need for irrigation. This project has involved educating farmers about outdoor mushroom cultivation during four on-farm workshops and demonstrations, presentations at two Oregon State University Extension programs, a presentation at the OSU Small Farms Conference, regular updates on two well-established social media platforms, and the formation of a regional mushroom producers listserve. The project also researched the best substrates for Reishi mushroom cultivation, measuring mushroom yields in a trial with different substrates in each greenhouse: topsoil, sawdust, and woodchips. The cost of creating these fruiting environments are minimal relative to the acreage landscapes needed for plant farming. Research included the development of enterprise budgets that compare costs of the three substrates and the minimal infrastructure needed. Results of the research will be disseminated during presentations at the OSU Small Farms Conference, at farm visits and tours, in the cultivation classes, on two social media platforms, and through an Oregon State University publication.

Project Objectives:

Educational Objectives:

Objective 1: Provided education and training for at least 100 participants in basic mushroom cultivation at four on-farm workshops.

Objective 2: Engaged at least 65 participants in presentations at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center about mushroom cultivation at 2 Extension events.

Objective 3: Presented findings from the Reishi trials at the Oregon State University Small Farms Conference reaching 116 out of the 120 participant goal.

Objective 4: Engaged 28 mushroom producers in a listserve with a goal of 80 producers by the end of the year.

Objective 5: Have at least 6000 followers on two social media platforms by the end of the year we are currently at 4500. 

Objective 6: Produced a technical paper with results of Reishi substrate research with a goal of at least 3,000 downloads by the end of 2022.

 

Research Objectives:

Objective 1: Determined which of three substrates (sawdust, wood chips, and topsoil) results in the highest yields of Reishi mushrooms (topsoil).

Objective 2:  Created enterprise budgets for each of the substrates to determine the costs of outdoor Reishi mushroom cultivation.

Timeline:

Between April 1st -July 1st, 2021, Muhammad will set up infrastructure for reishi trials, seed spawn, and collect data from the experiment.

 

In August, October, December, 2021 and February 2022, Muhammad will host half day workshops on her farm, Zoom Out Mycology.

In February 2022, she will present her research findings at a national mycology conference.

Between August 2021 and February 2022, Muhammad will collect emails from workshops and social media. In September 2021, she will launch her mushroom listserve.

Between May 1st 2021 and April 30th 2022, Muhammad will provide weekly updates to her social media platforms, which will include photos and research findings.

Between March and April 2022, Powell and Muhammad will write and publish technical report and/or Extension publication on basic reishi production and results fron trials. 

April, 2022, Muhummad will survey listserve participants on the benefits of being on the listserve.

 

Cooperators

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  • Maud Powell - Technical Advisor

Research

Materials and methods:

Research Plan 

   

 This project addressed the research question: Which of three fruiting environments will result in the highest yields and lowest irrigation requirements for Reishi mushroom cultivation? Topsoil, sawdust, and wood chips were the chosen substrates. Additionally, all costs associated with each substrate, including raw materials and labor, was documented for the purpose of creating enterprise budgets. The purpose of this research was to provide producers with information on how to maximize yield and profit when cultivating Reishi mushrooms. 

      The project was completed in three parts. First, at Zoom Out Mycology fungi farm, the producer began by constructing necessary infrastructure for the project, which included building shade structures, raised beds and hoop houses around each bed. The infrastructure setup was followed by lab work that included; preparation of the substrates, which involved sterilizing agar, inoculating the agar once it cooled, soaking the grain, preparing and pasteurizing the sawdust, sterilizing and inoculating the supplemented sawdust blocks, and letting them incubate. The conclusion of the setup consisted of burying or “planting” the fully colonized fruiting blocks outside in the three greenhouses.

      For greenhouse planting, producers dug trenches to create two 8’ beds of Reishi per greenhouse, placed spawn bags in the trench, and covered them with the surrounding substrates; 4 beds per greenhouse were made, creating a total of 12 beds. It took, on average, 45 days for primordial differentiation and 60 days for mushroom maturation, then the Reishi mushrooms were harvested. 

      A guide for growing Reishi mushrooms outdoors in greenhouses will be published in the fall of 2022 on the Oregon State University Extension Small Farms website, as well as the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center website. Results will also be posted on the Zoom Out Mycology blog and social media platforms.

Research results and discussion:

The goal of this research was to gain knowledge about outdoor Reishi cultivation and provide producers with information on how to maximize yield and reduce watering when cultivating Reishi mushrooms in an outdoor setting. With a focus on utilizing the least water while maximizing yield of mushroom we measured results in weight of harvest (grams). The question was which of three substrates (topsoil, wood chips and sawdust) would lead to the highest yields given equal watering. The topsoil, of the three substrates, was the only one to reflect measurable yields. The sawdust and wood chip substrates produced no mushrooms. The watering schedule was 15 minutes of watering per greenhouse, on Tuesday and Friday evenings. In the wood chip and sawdust beds the water either percolated too fast or not enough. Our results have led to a new hypothesis that a blend of substrates may lead to the most optimal substrate moisture retention capability. 

The biological efficiency of our project was determined based on the dry fruiting block weight of 1.9lbs. We took the fresh harvest weight and divided it by the dry substrate weight to calculate the biological efficiency. In indoor cultivation, Reishi's typical biological efficiencies can range from 80% to 120%(CITE) . The range we experienced was 9-48%. By planting 96 fruiting blocks with a biological efficiency of 80%, profits of $600 per season could be earned. By improving the species selection and burial timing, environmental conditions leading to crop stress or failure can be reduced.

This research has led to both more clarity and curiosity about what successful outdoor Reishi growing could look like in Oregon. Some new questions formed include how the smoke season impacts fresh air exchange for outdoor growing of mushrooms, and what ratios of each substrate leads to the most balanced moisture retention in the substrate. One scenario that could serve as a starting point could be 60% topsoil, 20% sawdust, and 10% wood chips. The wood chips could promote percolation and aeration, the sawdust could serve as the sponge, and the topsoil could keep the materials together. 

Reishi Enterprise Budget

Participation Summary
5 Producers participating in research

Research Outcomes

1 New working collaborations

Education and Outreach

4 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
12 On-farm demonstrations
5 Online trainings
1 Published press articles, newsletters
12 Tours
5 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Other educational activities: 1 podcast episode on February 15th on Fresh Growth by SARE

Participation Summary:

5 Farmers participated
3 Ag professionals participated
Education and outreach methods and analyses:

One of the primary objectives of this research project was education. Zoom Out Mycology was to reach as many people as possible with a focus on current and aspiring mushroom growers. We did this by hosting a variety of events including four workshops, twelve on-site farm tours, and a presentation at OSU Small Farms Conference. PI Muhammad wrote a publication that will be published on the Oregon State University Small Farms website in fall of 2022 so that the information that has been gathered throughout this project can continue to reach and be utilized by interested people into the future.

The main goal of the first workshop hosted was to dive deeper into the multiple dimensions of sustainability and how they intersect with farming along with fungi. Our team at Zoom Out Mycology introduced the Reishi Trials and related goals of the research project. Next, we focused on solutions to agricultural problems such as soil & water pollution, the use of harmful pesticides, and farm worker injustices. We also discussed what sustainability means to the Zoom Out Mycology team and how it correlates with the practices within the company. We then opened up a dialogue to learn how each participant defines sustainability and shared ideas about how these values could be applied in everyday life as individuals as well as a collective. The aim was to inspire curiosity about how we can better achieve sustainability through innovation and utilization of accessible resources in the natural world.

The second workshop was a practical presentation about how to cultivate mushrooms, with a primary focus on warm weather species. In this presentation, PI Muhammad began with a self-introduction and personal journey with fungi farming. She then outlined the fundamentals of mushroom cultivation, warm weather species specifications, and mushroom farming economics. In this workshop, participants were introduced to species of fungi that are well adapted to and able to be cultivated in warmer environments. They learned how they can start utilizing what they have at their disposal to immediately begin growing mushrooms on a small scale.

The third workshop in this series was all about how to utilize mushrooms to improve one’s overall health and well-being. A primary theme within this presentation was mushrooms as both food and medicine. Participants were introduced to the nutritional and medicinal benefits of 6 mushroom species. We discussed in detail how to prepare them in ways that render their beneficial properties bioavailable. We then guided the group, step-by-step, through the basics of making at-home medicinal preparations of these mushrooms, including the best extraction methods for each species. We also provided a demonstration of how mushrooms can be properly cooked and incorporated into a delicious, easily reproduced meal.

The fourth workshop was another opportunity for participants to learn the clearly defined process of producing gourmet and medicinal mushrooms. The attendees were introduced to some of the most popular and easy-to-grow, cold weather species, such as Blue Oyster and Lion’s Mane. They learned about their unique growth parameters and cultivation tips for efficient production of these species. They were then invited to schedule a 1-on-1 tour of the Zoom Out Mycology farm. Of the 30-50 students that attended these workshops, 12 locals took advantage of this opportunity and met with Bashira to get an in-person look at how a small scale mushroom farm operates.

PI Muhammad gave a presentation about applied mycology and on-farm research to 116 people at the OSU Small Farms conference in February. She discussed the process of designing applied research for problem solving and related them to the two research projects happening on the Zoom Out farm. She explained the various types of research and the steps to properly conduct them on a farm. The presentation was concluded by answering the audience’s questions pertaining to applied mycology and research.

We set out on this study with a few additional educational goals pertaining to outreach. One objective was to engage 80 mushroom producers in a Listserv, in which we were able to acquire 28 members for the list. Another one of the goals was to reach 6000 followers across our social media outlets by the completion of this project. We came very close to this goal with about 4500 followers in total. We expect to fully reach this goal by the end of 2022. 

Finally, we set out to publish a Reishi growing guide based on a collection of relevant information, our experience throughout this study, and collaboration with other knowledgeable researchers. This comprehensive guide introduces the Reishi mushroom, its morphology, and two methods of cultivation that can be done outdoors in a greenhouse.

5 Farmers intend/plan to change their practice(s)
3 Farmers changed or adopted a practice

Education and Outreach Outcomes

5 Producers reported gaining knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness as a result of the project

Success Stories

No participants
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.