Cultivating mushrooms and producing soil amendments using underutilized waste materials to increase profitability in an agroforestry system.

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2022: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 01/15/2024
Grant Recipient: Zumwalt Acres
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
Alexis Weintraub
Zumwalt Acres


  • Miscellaneous: mushrooms


  • Crop Production: agroforestry
  • Education and Training: mentoring
  • Energy: byproduct utilization
  • Farm Business Management: apprentice/intern training, farmers' markets/farm stands, new enterprise development
  • Production Systems: permaculture
  • Soil Management: composting, earthworms, organic matter, soil quality/health

    Proposal summary:

    The purpose of this project is to increase capacity for mushroom production as a way to convert underutilized, on-farm resources into a nutritious product, while improving soil health, and increasing profitability in an agroforestry system. Mushroom cultivation can play a key role in our system by providing a consistent weekly marketable yield, with low input costs and next to zero waste. For agroforestry to be financially viable for farmers, there must be streams of revenue during the years before the trees and woody perennials reach maturity. Mushroom cultivation provides a relatively secure path to profit during this vital interim and beyond. The spent mushroom substrate (i.e. the “waste” material that remains after mushroom harvest) will be used in a vermicompost system, supporting the production of worm castings, a high quality soil amendment. This vermicompost can be combined with biochar (which can be produced on-site from agroforestry waste products) to produce a unique product that can improve soil health and plant yields throughout the agroforestry system. Biochar paired with vermicompost has shown to provide synergistic benefits (Doan et al, 2015). With further development, this amendment can become a marketable product in its own right, supporting horticulture, urban farming, and container gardening. 

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Build infrastructure to support mushroom cultivation including a transfer space, incubation room, and fruiting room.
    2. Refine and document mushroom cultivation standard operating procedures by end of 2022.
    3. Grow and sell an average of 80 lbs of mushrooms per week for 30 weeks throughout the 2023 growing season.
    4. Develop a healthy vermicompost system to match the scale of mushroom production and harvest vermicompost at the end of each growing season.
    5. Experiment on-farm with vermicompost plus biochar amendments in horticultural practices.
    6. Develop teaching tools to support apprenticeship education on mushroom cultivation and vermicompost.
    7. Document and share findings through social media and conferences.
    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.