Growing the Specialty Mushroom Industry in the Northeast

Progress report for LNE19-376

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2019: $98,796.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2021
Grant Recipient: Fungi Ally, LLC
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
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Project Information

Performance Target:

Ten farmers produce and sell 9,000 pounds of specialty mushrooms over 30 weeks, generating $108,000 in


In a previous USDA-SARE-sponsored national survey of shiitake growers, 89% of respondents indicated that demand consistently exceeded supply in their region. A 2015 Chatham University study interviewed 23 Northeastern buyers who reported needing 7,075 pounds of shiitake annually to fulfill customer demand; only 2,060 pounds (29% of demand) of locally-produced shiitakes were available for purchase. Despite this demand, only 229 farmers reported growing specialty mushrooms, and both the number of growers and the production rates have declined over the past three seasons. United States per capita consumption of all mushroom species was only 2.7 pounds in 1978 but by 2014 averaged 4 pounds per capita. The market for mushroom consumption has steadily increased over the past decades and is projected to continue to grow. Farmers are unable to access this market because of a lack of training, resources, and experts to consult. Small-diversified vegetable/livestock farms, beginning farms, and urban farms are prime candidates for specialty mushroom cultivation. Over 75% of farmers who participated in a survey conducted by the project team responded that they would benefit from participating in a project gathering data on methods of mushroom

In order to propel a new generation of specialty mushroom growers, this grant will compile data on specialty mushroom production. We will support a cohort of start-up growers to model a range of commercial operations in exchange for data on start-up costs, labor, and other key considerations. The comparative data from various scenarios will be compiled and form the basis of outreach materials and enterprise budgets. We will focus efforts on three systems of cultivation:

Oyster mushroom cultivation on straw.
Specialty mushroom production on ready-to-fruit blocks indoors.
Specialty mushroom production on ready-to-fruit blocks outdoors.

After developing a guidebook and video resources, project educators will engage 300 growers in two-hour workshops. A subset of interested growers will attend follow-up online sessions. These attendees can apply for ongoing mentoring as they develop and implement a business plan. Ten growers will be accepted for intensive support from the project team in exchange for keeping track of labor and economic data while starting and operating their enterprise. Growers will offer a range of scenarios that will be described in case studies and enterprise budgets, which will be published along with a finalized cultivation manual. All materials will be available indefinitely online.


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Specialty mushroom production can be profitable in several scenarios, but important cost/benefit analysis for a variety of approaches is critical to grower success.

Materials and methods:

This research is targeted towards farmers interested in mushroom cultivation. It is for established farmers who
are looking to diversify crops, increase revenue, or use underutilized spaces. It is also for beginning farmers
looking for a high-value crop that requires low space and capital investments. As demonstrated through this
application, the research and information available to this population is currently inadequate to meet the rising
demand for local mushrooms.
This research will be done by grant participants with the guidance, input, and support of the project team.
Growers who submit a plan will decide whether to inoculate their own substrate or purchase ready-to-fruit blocks.
The information presented through the first four milestones will enable growers to make this decision with the
help of the project team.
The data collected will provide a comparison of time and earning potential between growers involved in the entire
production cycle compared to growers who purchase ready-to-fruit blocks. The data will also allow for
comparison between indoor and outdoor growers. Grant participants will agree to collect a range of data through
the 30-week growing season in exchange for technical and material support.
Growers will be provided excel templates and printed sheets for data collection. These sheets will be developed
by the project team for growers to record weekly expenses, sales, harvest, and labor hours. More established
infrastructure and utility needs will be recorded monthly.
All data will be submitted monthly to an online database. The research team will check in with each grower once
a month to answer any questions on data collection and ensure the farmers submit data for that month. The
sample population will be 10 farmers, each cultivating an average of 30 pounds per week. This will ensure a
range of scenarios and methods of cultivation from which to collect and analyze data.

Data collection and Analysis:

The aim of collecting this data is to give potential mushroom farmers clarity on the variety of growing methods
available and the drawbacks and benefits to each. To this end, grant participants will collect weekly data on the
All labor hours to inoculate, monitor, initiate, sell and harvest mushrooms;
Any costs for materials including spawn, substrate, or blocks;
Weight of harvested mushrooms;
Revenue from fresh mushroom sales;
Percent contamination of substrates, if any;
Any observational data that will be useful in reporting successes and failures.
Participants will also collect the following data on a monthly basis:

Cost of utilities associated with mushroom production;
Amount of space dedicated to inoculation, incubation, fruiting, storage;
Infrastructure needed for production.
Statistical analysis of the harvest data will generate a p-value to determine if the yields from all farms are
significantly different depending on the method of cultivation. Economic data will be compiled and presented as
both average time and material costs. An analysis of the cost-benefit ratio for each method will be developed.
Each enterprise will be individually analyzed and total averages will be calculated. Several farms will be
highlighted as case studies. The project team will conduct visits to each farm in order to take photos and notes
about the infrastructure, size, and methods of the farm.

Research results and discussion:

We accepted 15 farmers into the research aspect of this study. With all that happened during 2020, 5 of those farmers were able to complete 30 weeks of data collection. Data will be analyzed, interpreted and presented with tables, graphics, and booklets this year. 

Participation Summary
15 Farmers participating in research


Educational approach:

We used established mushroom listservs and groups to spread the word about this project. Cornell, UMass,
and other extension departments helped recruit farmers through their newsletters. Recruitment was also done
through social media outreach. The first two specialty mushroom cultivation guidebooks were published in Oct 2019 to further recruit and offer clarity on methods of cultivation. Applications were assessed and given feedback and 15 farmers were selected to continue with the project. 

Curriculum topics:

a. Mushroom Life Cycle. Understanding the life cycle as it pertains to cultivation.
b.Systems of commercial mushroom cultivation. Three different options for materials and methods of specialty
mushroom cultivation.
c.Building a Growing Space. The parameters needed for proper mushroom formation and how to create them.
d.Inoculation Procedures. Familiarity with past research and methods to grow oyster mycelium.
e.Managing contamination and pests. How to manage issues with inoculation and fruiting of specialty
f.Harvest and Storage. When to harvest, quality control, and post-harvest storage.
g.Selling and Marketing. Pricing, markets, and methods of selling mushrooms.
h.Building a Viable Enterprise. Incorporating mushroom cultivation into a farm business, cost-benefit analysis.

Instructional methods:

The instructional methods will become more individualized as the grant proceeds.
1) Farmers participated in online webinars or received materials via email describing the grant.
2) 350+ Farmers participated in two-hour in person workshops that were held throughout the
Northeast. The workshop outlined the basics of specialty mushroom cultivation and three different methods of
3)Farmers that are interested in growing specialty mushrooms in the coming growing season will take part in a 3
week online webinar series which covers the processes of growing specialty mushrooms in greater detail.
4) Farmers submit a detailed plan for growing 20+ pounds of mushrooms per week. 12 farmers will be given written feedback and a phone consultation with the project team to review and give suggestions on the plan. 10
will move forward with their plan.
5)During the growing season of 2020 the project team answered questions by phone or email
and checked in monthly for questions and to collect data. We also held one grower conference on zoom. 
6)A member of the project team will visit each farm to give on site feedback and one-on-one consultation. This has been limited to only 2 farms because of Covid concerns. 


Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

1000 vegetable and beginning farmers in the Northeast learn about specialty mushroom cultivation as a viable farm enterprise through webinars, newsletters, and emails. April - August 2019.
Initial training and record keeping materials are developed. April - August 2019

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
Proposed Completion Date:
August 31, 2019
Date Completed:
October 31, 2019

Through newsletters, announcements and social media over 10,000 people were contacted about this project. At least 1500 went to the website describing the project and learned about mushroom cultivation as a farming enterprise. 

Milestone #2 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

300 farmers attend trainings (30 participants at 10 events) facilitated by growers and educators in New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Maine. Workshops cover cultivation techniques, business planning, and project performance target. October - January 2020.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
Proposed Completion Date:
January 31, 2020
Date Completed:
December 16, 2019

8 workshops were held throughout the northeast with 356 people attending the workshops. 1 more will be held in upstate New York in January. 

These workshops were held in Maine, New York, West Virginia, Maryland, Washington D.C., and Vermont. One was cancelled due to a snowstorm. 

Milestone #3 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

100 farmers attend three 2-hour webinars providing in-depth training on specialty cultivation
methods; fruiting room design and maintenance; and expected hours, expenses and income to produce 20-50 pounds of mushrooms a week. February 2020.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
Proposed Completion Date:
February 29, 2020
Date Completed:
February 19, 2020

Three online webinars were held on Feb 5th, 12th, 19th with around 50 people attending each. They were posted on YouTube after and have received between 500-1,200 views since then. The webinars provided in-depth training on specialty cultivation methods; fruiting room design and maintenance; and expected hours, expenses and income to produce 20-50 pounds of mushrooms a week. 

Milestone #4 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

15 farmers submit a basic plan and budget for a system to produce 30 pounds of specialty mushrooms per week for 30 weeks between April and December. March 2020.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
Proposed Completion Date:
March 31, 2020
Date Completed:
April 15, 2021

32 farmers submitted applications including a basic plan and budget to produce 20-50 pounds of mushroom per week during the 2020 growing season. 

Milestone #5 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

10 Farmers produce 9,000 pounds of mushrooms generating $108,000 of added income and
receive ongoing support with the project team by phone, email, and a group discussion board. Site visits are arranged with participating growers and their systems documented by project team. Data on expenses, sales, and labor inputs is collected by growers and reviewed monthly by project team. April - December 2020.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2020
Date Completed:
December 31, 2021

seven farmers produced mushrooms during the 2020 growing season, five of them recorded data for the entire 30 weeks. In total 3,800 pounds of mushrooms were harvested during the year. 

Milestone #6 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

10 participating farmers submit final production, yield and quality data. December 2020.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2020
In Progress

We will be finalizing data in the next several months and conducting online interviews instead of the in person visits. 

Milestone #7 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Data is analyzed and informs an enterprise budget tool. Case studies of selected farms are written and published. Guidebook is finalized with data incorporated from the project and is published online and distributed to 5,000 people through Facebook, listservs, and newsletters. May 2021

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
Proposed Completion Date:
December 31, 2021
In Progress

Milestone Activities and Participation Summary

Educational activities:

2 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Journal articles
2 Tours
2 Webinars / talks / presentations
6 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

356 Farmers

Information Products

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.