Potter Valley Tribe’s Native Mushroom Cultivation from Waste Byproduct Substrate for Food Sovereignty

Progress report for RGR20-010

Project Type: Research to Grass Roots
Funds awarded in 2020: $12,106.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2022
Host Institution Award ID: G162-21-W7906
Grant Recipients: Potter Valley Tribe; Western Colorado University; Mendocino Community College; Mendocino, Lake, Sonoma Tribal Environmental Programs; Forest Reciprocity Group
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Jade Swor
Potter Valley Tribe
Salvador Rosales, Sr.
Potter Valley Tribe
Salvador Rosales, Jr.
Potter Valley Tribe
Gregg Young
Potter Valley Tribe
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Project Information


The Potter Valley Tribe intends to continue the cultivation of medicinal and gourmet mushrooms on our coastal land in Fort Bragg, California but grow in a significant way by adding to Western SARE's mycological knowledge. A one-of-a-kind proposal, we want to continue to expand on previous SARE research through experimenting with growing on spent coffee grounds, hardwood sawdust from sawmills, and other less frequently utilized local ‘waste’ byproducts such as hemp production. Combined with the traditional ecological knowledge of Northern Californian tribes, we want to experiment with cultivating native mushrooms from our own production of spawn. This means that we will be setting up a mushroom program within the Tribe to continue our mushroom cultivation but to develop our own methodology for production rather than purchasing spawn from other growers which we are currently doing. Potter Valley Tribe became federally recognized in 1993 but since then have made major changes to benefit Tribal members and the environment. The themes to the projects initiated by the Tribe have been environmental sustainability, agriculture, and education. Combined with Western SARE, we want to continue this legacy to benefit Potter Valley Tribal members as well as regional Tribes and Tribal youth through this integrative mushroom cultivation project. From consulting with mushroom farmers, soil scientists, and a biomimetic designer, we have and want to continue to ensure that our project is truly robust enough to be producing towards a successful and sustainable goal while adding to SARE's database for future mushroom projects.

Project Objectives:

Within 2 months, we will grow in our capacity to continue a producing and sustainable mid-scale mushroom farm

  1. To continue food sovereignty for Potter Valley Tribe
  2. To diversify Potter Valley Tribe’s revenue

Within 6 months, and on an ongoing basis, we will contribute to SARE’s research database

  1. Through growing different mushrooms on novel waste-stream substrates
  2. From Tribal directed research
  3. To evaluate the success of a small-scale mushroom operation for additional income for farmers

Within 12 months, we will provide and continue to provide education on fungi

  1. Through documenting the cultivation process from collection, through inoculation, to harvest
  2. Distribution catered for regional Tribes and Tribal youth
  3. To bring traditional uses of mushrooms, cultivation, and gathering methods into awareness

Descendants of the Northern Pomo people, the Potter Valley Tribe, is cultivating a small variety of mushroom species on our land in Fort Bragg, California. We began this small grow operation with the objectives of food sovereignty, sustainable agriculture, income, and education. Food sovereignty for Native Americans acts as a resurgence of culture, bolstering health, economic development, and native nationhood. Tribes across the United States have begun food programs to educate and empower Tribal members to take control of their diets. While native plants and traditional foods represent a significant portion of these programs, mushrooms are seldom recognized. Mushrooms have long been an important feature in Northern Californian diets but are rarely cultivated on Tribal lands. This project provides food sovereignty for members of the Potter Valley Tribe.

As for the specific species we cultivate they include Oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus), Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) and Lion’s mane (Hericuim erinaceus), but we want to diversify our species for food and medicinal purposes. Oyster mushrooms are a popular beginner’s mushroom to cultivate and also serve as nutritious gourmet mushrooms. Turkey tail mushrooms have shown immune functions, antiviral effects, and cholesterol-regulating effects, among others in peer-reviewed studies (Hobbs 2004). Lion’s mane has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, and immunostimulating properties as well as improvement of anxiety, cognitive function, and depression (Friedman 2015). We have begun generating economic stability for Potter Valley by selling these medicinal mushrooms at farmer’s markets and local co-ops. Expanding our grow area, we will be able to generate about $12,000 for the Tribe. We want to experiment with more native varieties which will add to SARE's ethnomycological research. 

Additionally, local mushroom cultivation and sale is a growing niche in the sustainable foods market (Coffey 2015). Based on previous SARE research, mushrooms act as an efficient closed-loop crop because they can be grown on production ‘wastes’ substrates such as spent coffee grounds (Susarret 2017), hardwood sawdust (Jacobson 2018), cacao shells (Allawos 2013) and spent brewer’s grain (Coffey 2015). We will continue using coffee grounds, hardwood sawdust, and others from our local businesses, effectively displaying a circular economy mechanism.

Recognizing other SARE projects directed by Tribes, such as the Hopland Tribe's just south of Potter Valley, a large part of the project will be dedicated to education. Not only will we be educating Tribes and community members on growing mushrooms from local byproducts, but we will also be teaching about traditional ecological knowledge associated with the native mushrooms. By the end of the project, we will have educated a consortium of 21 Tribal environmental employees between Mendocino, Lake, and Sonoma counties known as MLSTEP (Mendocino, Lake, Sonoma Tribal Environmental Programs) in addition to countless Tribal members and volunteers who participate in actualizing this project. Public education about fungi is paramount in terms of serving areas in need of conservation. Exchanging mycological knowledge and traditional mycological knowledge within Tribes is an opportunity to bridge knowledge systems, creating a more resilient model of fungi’s role in ecology as well as Tribal resilience in conservation.


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Educational approach:

Potter Valley Tribe’s Native Mushroom Cultivation from Waste Byproduct Substrate for Food Sovereignty was based in and around the ancestral territory of the Pomo people in Mendocino County, California. The area for mushroom cultivation, workshop location and research is based on the coast in Fort Bragg. The three components of the program included fungi education, food sovereignty, and sustainability. While the Covid-19 pandemic changed the direction of the project, we were able to adapt our plans, continue the project and come to some useful conclusions to add to SARE’s research.

The beginnings of the project was to discover which species, substrates, growing containers and environmental conditions to cultivate with. In the beginning of our project the mushroom grow area was improved upon and Potter Valley Tribe (PVT) made connections to local producers where waste byproduct can be collected. Six varieties of Oyster mushrooms (3 Pleurotus ostreatus, Pleurotus djamor, Pleurotus citrinopileatus, and Pleurotus eryngii), Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus), Shiitake (Lentinula edodes), Nameko (Pholiota microspora), and Cinnamon Cap (Hypholoma sublateritium). We initially used spawn from a mushroom farm in San Francisco aiming to grow out from our own spawn eventually. We utilized spent brewer’s grain, spent cannabis stalks, walnut waste, spent coffee grounds, and used organic straw as a control. We only pasteurized the cannabis stalks and straw to adjust the moisture content. For experimenting with different growing containers we explored plastic ‘unicorn’ grow bags, biodegradable ‘unicorn’ grow bags, and reusable buckets. To simulate the warm weather months, we kept them at a constant temperature of about 75° F for about 3 weeks. After the mycelium had spread, we began the fruiting process which means it was time to oxygenate. After about a week, we found the natural atmosphere wasn’t sufficient for production so spent time experimenting with temperature gauging and humidity, keeping track to ensure the least amount of input to maximize the mushrooms’ abilities to grow. Towards the end of this initial experiment, we found that the Pleurotus ostreatus and Hericium erinaceus grew the best in organic straw-filled buckets. The best waste substrate was spent cannabis stalks and coffee grounds in the biodegradable bags with a single diagonal cut. The humidity level worked best if it oscillated between 80-95% and the temp was around 60-64° F. We used what we learned from this initial experiment to continue growing. In addition, we also inoculated hardwood logs with dowels and began assembling a low-tech outdoor mushroom farm onsite. The mushroom cultivation program is still in operation, involving Tribal youth and creating food sovereignty for the PVT. In addition to producing mushroom fruits to be used in cooking we also produced encapsulated and extracted gathering medicinal species such as the Turkey Tail mushroom.

After consultation with the Potter Valley Tribal Council, it was decided we would hold an integrative mushroom workshop open to regional tribal members, hosting a blend of cultural and environmental knowledge sharing sessions, in the clubhouse at Noyo-Bida Ranch in Fort Bragg. The topics we discussed that day included medicinal species and benefits, cooking techniques, personal gathering experiences, soil remediation and composting, knowing your sources, gathering rights and potential policies, iNaturalist and MycoFlora Project demonstration, and a presentation on PVT’s grow from local waste substrate. We had 24 attendees from 7 different tribes with youth and elder representation. The lunch included mushroom dishes created by a local chef with medicinal teas, casserole, stew, dips, salad, and two desserts featuring choice mushrooms such as chanterelle, boletes, candy cap, and oysters from our grow project as well as traditionally gathered seaweed, mussels, and salad greens. During this workshop we planned how we want to move forward as a group to include mushrooms into tribal environmental and cultural efforts needed to remember how vital fungi are to our health and wellbeing. 

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Growing in our capacity to continue production and distribution catered for regional tribes and tribal youth

Coordinate with regional tribes for mushroom workshops, cooking demonstrations, and mushroom gathering with youth.


Throughout the course of this project, working with other tribes was a priority. In order to grow in our capacity to continue production and distribution catered for regional tribes and tribal youth, it was necessary to provide an entry, or reentry, into the world of fungi through workshops, demonstrations, and group forays. It is vital to continue the cultural traditions and practices by involving youth in these initiatives. By providing diverse entry points through food and interactive education on learning about fungi, we were able to bring many participants into the project that normally wouldn't have been interested. Distribution was catered for tribes, including what mushrooms are needed versus only what we wanted to cultivate.

Outcomes and impacts:
  1. This initiative brought in over 40 new participants in the project, including elder and youth representation. 
  2. There were representatives from 8 different tribes.
  3. Potter Valley Tribe, Kashia Band of Pomo Indians, Round Valley Indian Tribes, and Pinoleville Pomo Nation have come together to continue education tribal youth in mushroom cultivation, cooking, and gathering.
  4. Experimented with creating medicinal mushroom tinctures and supplements from Turkey Tail, Reishi, Lions Mane and others.


To bring traditional uses of mushrooms, cultivation, and gathering methods into awareness from Tribal directed research

Utilizing iNaturalist and the North American Mycoflora Project to map local species while exploring mushroom uses in traditional foods and gathering in traditional practices as well as exploring the cloning of localized species for production.


The North American Mycoflora Project (now known as the Fungal Diversity Survey) is a community science initiative to map the distribution and diversity of fungi across North America. Our project, the Mycoflora of Northern Pomo, is the first Tribal directed project and maps for the first time the relevant species to a tribe. The Potter Valley Tribe regularly takes people, and primarily tribal youth, to gather mushrooms using traditional methods. Utilizing the Fungal Diversity Survey in congruence with traditional gathering practices demonstrates how an intersection of older and newer technology can produce a better result than either would on their own. In addition both of this kind of data adds to the conversation of necessity for maintenance of cultural practices and cultural foods as they are both risk as well as the reduction of lands Indigenous people have access to in order to continue the practices. 

Outcomes and impacts:
  1. Continued the Mycoflora of Northern Pomo project into its second year.
  2. Led mushroom gathering trips with tribal youth from 7 different tribes.
  3. Cloned 2 naturalized species (Turkey Tail and Tree Oyster)
  4. Mapped out a future native/naturalized mushroom trail at the Noyo-Bida Ranch.
To continue food sovereignty for Potter Valley Tribe through growing different mushrooms on novel waste-stream substrates

Grow enough mushrooms to provide sustenance on waste byproducts enacting a circular economy mechanism and enhancing food sovereignty for the Potter Valley Tribe.


Experimenting with different methods for cultivating fungi brings innovation to a less popular but important crop. Our cultivation strategy enacts a circular economy mechanism through growing on waste byproducts. Production usually takes the form of creation --> use --> disposal without having a clear plan for what should be done with the disposal. By utilizing local waste byproducts to cultivate mushrooms, we are creating a circle, tying the disposal to the creation. In addition, after production the spent mushroom blocks are used in the compost and eventually the native plant garden as fertilizer, effectively closing the loop. This project contributes to food sovereignty as it allows for the rights for food to be produced and distributed in a way that is sustainable and ecologically sound.

Outcomes and impacts:
  1. We learned the best waste byproduct substrates to cultivate on (spent cannabis stalks and spent coffee grounds).
  2. We learned the most sustainable and effective method to cultivate was using buckets for Oyster and Lion's Mane.
  3. We found the most suitable conditions for the mushrooms to acclimate to for low input and high yield.
  4. Created relationships between local businesses, reducing their waste.
  5. Generated healthy food and medicine for tribal members.
To provide education on fungi through documenting the cultivation process from collection, through inoculation, to harvest

Produce multimedia instructional products that can be used to teach many more Tribal members and interested volunteers in expanding the program.


There tends to be a lack of knowledge transfer in short-term projects such as these so before we began the project, we decided to document the whole process in order to close that feedback loop. Utilizing multimedia and specifically videos makes training more accessible to a wider range of individuals and demonstrates that this process may not be as complicated as those who are intimated may imagine. The Potter Valley Tribe has showed the comprehensive video to multiple tribes and it has inspired others to begin their own indoor and outdoor cultivation operations.

Outcomes and impacts:
  1. Production of 5 instructional videos including how to grow in buckets and on logs as well as how to use iNaturalist.
  2. Production of 'Mushroom Manual', a comprehensive manual with step-by-step instructions for completing a variety of expansions for the project including increasing capacity for production.
  3. Trained 3 people in bucket cultivation.
  4. 3 Tribes (Kashia Band of Pomo Indians, Round Valley Indian Tribes, and Pinoleville Pomo Nation) will begin their own mushroom grows from being inspired by this one.

Educational & Outreach Activities

3 On-farm demonstrations
6 Online trainings
1 Webinars / talks / presentations
4 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:
Online trainings: 6
Webinars, talks and presentations: 1
Workshop / field days: 4  

Information Products

  • Project Overview (Multimedia)
  • Project Website (Website)
  • 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.