Indoor cultivation of mushrooms to diversify farm and test local markets
Grant funds assisted with the purchase of some of the initial equipment needed, such as two laminar flow stations, one for my lab space and one for my growing space. These are essential to be able to produce quality mushrooms without contaminants. I was able to create a small lab space and an initial growing/fruiting area. I have begun outfitting a new growing/fruiting area to meet the needs of the entire project, since the first area is now too small to meet demands. I used grant funds to purchase strains of mushrooms, wire racks, pressure sterilizers and a 55 gallon drum. I built a wood burning stove to fit with the drum, instead of using a propane burner. Currently, it is working better than propane, but it can be modified to utilize propane as necessary. I continuously produced mushrooms for one restaurant for 7 months, which illustrated several problems which I have to address when I scale up the operation.
My business model appears to be sound, and the market is there, the bottle neck is the production end. The production issues had three main components: the different media each strain of mushroom needs, along with different growing conditions; continuous sourcing of inputs on a production level, as opposed to sample scale (general issues with scaling up, as well); and personal issues. Restaurant demand far exceeds my production capabilities, to the extent I haven’t tried to market anything at all, because I can not supply the markets with which I am currently working. Those connections were all results of personal conversations about my work, and not from me approaching them with samples in hand, looking for a business meeting.
Trying to utilize the same tools for the straw, manure and sawdust substrates needed for mushroom production was problematic, with the exception of the lab work. Having separate tools would have been more effective. Safety considerations when scaling up can be difficult to plan for. What works in a small scale setting will not work on a larger scale. Continuous production requires continuous input, which has been harder to implement than I had planned for. Springside Farm and I are working together to dovetail our needs so this will solve some of the sourcing issues. A sawdust bedding pack requires much more sawdust than I will be able to use for mushrooms, so I will be able to get the amount I need and share transportation and other costs.
In a perfect world, personal issues wouldn’t affect business; however, severe enough issues require extra attention. My business partner and friend checked himself into an alcohol treatment program; my little sister thru the Big Brother Big Sister program (matched for ten years) moved into my home because her previous living situation was unsafe, effectively making me a single parent to an eighteen year old; and my mother and employer at Springside Farm was diagnosed with diabetes. All of these events happened within 3 months of each other, all around the holidays. All of these events drastically changed my duties and the amount of time I had to devote to making my mushrooms successful. Luckily, my friend, my little sister and my mother are all doing well now, and have every reason to continue to be well.
Through all of our trials, we have defined and refined our practices and processes. This will allow greater efficiencies in the future, and I believe will be useful information to disseminate for people wanting to grow mushrooms at a larger than hobby scale, but less than full time commercial production.
WORK PLAN FOR 2010
I will scale up my operation to allow for continuous production of oyster mushrooms at a scale larger than one batch at a time. I will grow shi’itake and portabella mushrooms. The new fruiting area will allow for portabella and shi’itake growth, which requires different light manipulation than oysters. I will create a hoist/boom to lift the sterilized substrate from the 55 gal barrel. I will actively seek markets and ways to share the information, when appropriate, after having production runs in place. I am improving the pasteurization processes which will allow for greater production, reduced labor and time commitments, and less fuel inputs and water usage.
People have approached me solely thru word of mouth to come and visit the operation. I have scheduled three separate viewings with small groups of consumers and individuals interested in production. Given the difficulties with the production run, and the dismantling of my grow space to move to a larger space, I have not scheduled any other public events until I am able to show something. I will have updates on my website on how the alternate/new processes are working. I will create a mushroom portion of any field day on Springside Farm, as well as host one field day specifically for mushroom information dissemination.