Cultivation of shiitake mushrooms as an agroforestry crop for New England
The overall objective this project is to prepare farmers and other forest owners to become commercial Shiitake growers by training them not only in basic methods of Shiitake cultivation but also in related aspects of forest management, laying yard site selection and design, and enterprise development. This project is directed at prospective commercial growers, rather than “hobby” growers.
During the first year of the project 148 farm woodlot owners and/or other forest owners from New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maine, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania attended an introductory workshop at ether of 5 locations (29 at Ithaca, NY; 50 at Waitsfield, VT; 26 at Panama, NY; 23 at Greene County, NY; and 20 at Loudon, NH) where they received instruction and hands-on training in the basics of log-grown Shiitake mushroom cultivation. Later, during Summer/Fall of 2010 a total of 105 people attended an advanced workshop at either of 3 locations (23 at Ithaca, NY; 26 at Panama, NY; and 56 at Waitsfield, VT). The advanced workshops included training in 3 specialized topics, viz. forest management, laying yard selection, and enterprise development. The advanced workshops also included a site visit to an established commercial Shiitake farm. Fifty-four participants who attended both introductory and advanced workshops chose to apply for participation in the next two years of the program, where each will inoculate at least 100 logs at their own site. Each will each receive a site visit by at least one project staff member during 2011, and another site visit during 2012. They will also attend two workshops (2011 and 2012) maintain detailed production/marketing records, and otherwise contribute to the development of a Best Management Practices Guide for Shiitake Enterprise Development in the Northeast. Review of the 54 applications is underway and 20 will soon be selected for further participation beginning Spring 2011.
Performance Target: Each of 20 farm woodlot owners will inoculate 100 logs in 2011 and harvest 100 pounds of Shiitake mushrooms by 2012, earning $1200.
The project team including PI Mudge, CoPI Matthews, four experienced farmer advisers (commercial mushroom growers), and other staff has participated in and collectively achieved each of the milestones that apply to the first year of the project, although the sequence of activities used to achieve these milestones was modified. As specified in the original milestones, the sequence of workshops and number of participants for the first year was an introductory workshop at 3 locations, with 80 total participants. The introductory workshops would include the basics of Shiitake cultivation, forest management, site assessment, and enterprise development. The intention was that this workshop would be followed by a site visit to an established Shiitake farm by 60 participants. The actual sequence, of activities to achieve year one milestones, differed in that only basic Shiitake cultivation was included in the introductory workshop, while the advanced workshops included forest management, site design, and enterprise development plus the site visit to a Shiitake farm.
Table 1 includes the dates for the introductory workshops, their locations and number of participants, along with the number of participant evaluation forms completed.
Table 2 shows average scores for usefulness of the introductory workshop (4.8 out of 5.0), the degree to which training increased understanding (4.8), and the likelihood of using the information (4.8).
Table 3 shows the percentage of people who would recommend the training to others (100%), their intention to actually putting lessons learned into action (96.8%), and their desire to attend additional workshops (87.1%).
Table 4 shows the perceived usefulness of each workshop activity.
Table 5. shows the extent to which respondents indicated need for future training on specific topics.
Table 6 includes the dates for the advanced workshops, their locations and number of participants along with the number of participant evaluation forms completed.
Tables 7 – 9 indicate the reactions of advanced workshop participants to questions similar to those for the introductory workshops.
During the first year of this project we successfully accomplished the milestone 1 and 2 regarding workshops conducted during the summer of 2010. The attendance at both the introductory and advanced workshops far exceeded the targets specified in the targets (1 and 2). For the introductory workshops, instead of the 3 locations stipulated in Milestone 1, five were held including 3 in New York, 1 in Vermont and 1 New Hampshire. Collectively introductory workshop attendance exceed the milestone target (80) by almost two fold (148) an included participants from 10 different states. The attendance at each introductory workshop by location and date is shown in Table 1. The workshop aimed to provide participants with an introduction to Shiitake mushroom cultivation as an income-generating farm enterprise. This included not tree and spawn selection, log inoculation and stacking and laying yard management. Following each introductory workshop, participants were asked to evaluate the workshop noting lessons they had learned and planned to implement. The goal of the evaluation was to determine what information was most useful, what more information participants wanted, and what future Shiitake educational programs participants wanted. 62.8% of participants completed and returned the evaluation form. A summary of the results of the introductory workshop evaluations are provided below (Table 1). In all 5 introductory workshops, over three-quarters of the participants ranked the information presented as very useful. 87% of participants wrote that the training “helped with [their] understanding of the issues related to Shiitakes as an enterprise a great deal” (Table 2). 98.6% felt they were “very likely to use the information presented”. Every single respondent indicated that they would “recommend repeating this training for others”. 96% of the respondents indicated they were interested in inoculating Shiitake logs, and 87% were interested in joining on-going project workshops and on-farm research (Table 3). The participants rated each workshop topic including log inoculation, laying yard selection and management, substrate tree species selection, and fruiting of logs. Participants found the demonstration of the totem inoculation method (less common than bolt method), and of marketing alternatives to be least useful (Table 4). They indicated a need for more training regarding growing and marketing of Shiitakes for profit, and developing a forest management plan (Table 5), both areas which were scheduled to be included in the advanced workshops to be offered later in 2010.
As targeted in Milestone 2, three advanced workshops were held in Vermont (1 )and New York State (2). Each included presentations on Shiitake mushroom-related forest management, laying yard site selection and design, enterprise development, and a site visit to a commercial Shiitake farm. These advanced workshops were held at the 3 Shiitake farms of the four project farm advisors (Appendix B). Collectively 148 participants attended the advanced workshops, which far exceed the milestone target of 60. Of those 148 participants 49.5% submitted and evaluation of the workshop (Table 6). The participants ranked the three main components of the workshop based on how much their understanding of the topics increased. Participants recorded that their understanding of “Components of an Enterprise Assessment” and “Site Assessment and Design” increased the most. They also ranked the lessons within the workshop based on how likely they were to use the information presented. All lessons received high marks corresponding to an answer of “very likely”. The lessons regarding “Maintenance and the laying yard” and “Design of a Laying yard” received the most positive ratings and “Information on managing your forest” received the lowest ratings (Table 6). Participants were also asked how likely they were to use this information to inoculate logs of their own within one year. They responded that they were overwhelming likely to use the information. Every single respondent indicated that they would “recommend repeating this training for others” (Table 7). Only 34.6% of respondents noted that they had cultivated mushroom logs before. Over ninety percent of the respondents stated that they were interested in Shiitake farming on a commercial enterprise scale of at least 100 logs a year, would like to join our on-going workshops, and plan to submit a brief production plan to apply to continue with the program over the next two years (Table 9). This application process is directly related the third milestone, which was originally intended for 2011, “40 farmers develop their own Site Assessment and Design for their Laying Yard, i.e. Site map and written plan to us for feedback.” The intention was to use their plans to choose the 20 applicants most likely to develop income generating commercial Shiitake farms as a result of this project. We decide to move this application process from winter 2011 to Fall, 2010, so that the lessons learned from the introductory and advanced workshops would be “fresh” in the minds of the applicants, and also so we could give the selected 20 farmers more time to prepare for the scheduled inoculation activity in the early Spring (a year two milestone). Furthermore, we refined the original “site map and written plan” into a detailed online application form which would allow us to evaluate applications based on a uniform set of criteria. The application form was then made available to participants who had completed both the introductory and advanced workshops (or equivalent). The application was (and still is) available online (https://survey.uvm.edu/index.php?sid=51983&lang=en) or as a pdf file (http://mushrooms.cals.cornell.edu/Shiitake_project/Shiitake%20Research%20application%20hard%20copy.pdf. A total of 58 applications were submitted by the December 1 deadline, and are being evaluated now, with the intention of notifying the 20 “winners” by the beginning of January, 2011. There 56 applications were from 7 states including Vermont (22), NY (18), PA (6), NH (5), MS (3), MA (1), and NJ (1). Surprisingly, of the 56 applications received, 10 of them are already cultivating Shiitake mushrooms, ranging in scale from 4 to 500 logs. This indicates that these applicants have concluded from the beginning and advanced workshops that the project is and will continue to deliver useful information that they do not already have, despite their prior experience. One of the question asked during our interview with the NE SARE proposal review team in Albany on January 21, 2010 was, could we realistically attract as many participants as stipulated in our milestones (80 for the introductory workshop; 60 for the advanced workshop). In response we developed a recruitment/publicity plan that attracted nearly twice as many participants to both the introductory (148) and advanced (105) workshops (nearly twice as many as targeted).
Milestone 4 indicates that “three on-farm Shiitake research sites will be established with experienced growers (4 Farmer Advisers)”. At two of 2 of the 3 Shiitake farms run by the project Farmer Advisers the PI and the farmer together designed an on-farm experiment intended to yield information useful to that particular farm. Two of these on-farm experiments are underway. In Spring of 2010, Laskovski (Dana Forest Farm) began an experiment to test several different Shiitake strains. Sierigk (Hawk Meadow Farm) is investigating effects of different substrate tree species on mushroom quantity and quality. So far taste is the quality indicator of interest. To evaluate the effect of substrate tree species on taste, he conducted a “tasting” of Shiitake mushrooms that had been grown on logs of 5 different tree species, as well as Shiitake mushrooms grown indoors on sawdust (mass market process). Based on a panel of 20 tasters, results indicate a preference for log-grown over sawdust grown Shiitake, but there was little consensus among the tasters as to their preference for mushrooms grown on logs of any particular tree species. This information may be of use to some Shiitake growers who market their log-grown product as superior to sawdust grown Shiitake. This tasting evaluation (research) and other related mushroom quality evaluations will be repeated in 2011.
At the Green Heron Farm data collection for their experimental determination of the optimal time that forced fruiting (soaking) should begin was halted due to unavoidable circumstances. The same experiment will be re initiated during Spring 21011. In addition, at Green Heron Farm, the Rockcastles have provided us with production and sales records from their 1500 log Shiitake operation. These records are more detailed than we have previously had access to, and will contribute significantly to the Shiitake Enterprise Development workshop coming up during Summer/Fall of 2011. Their records will serve as a model for the record keeping standards we expect from the 20 continuing participants.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
One the most important impacts of this project was that, due to unexpectedly higher demand for mushroom cultivation training than anticipated,we trained nearly twice as many people as we originally planned. As the evaluation summary for the advanced workshops (Table 9)indicates, 34.6% of respondents had previously grown or attempted to grow Shiitake mushrooms. We infer from this that at least some of these people have been exposed to one of the many “mini workshops” on or demonstrations of Shiitake mushroom cultivation that are sponsored by various gardening groups, extension organizations, etc. These mini trainings typically run a couple of hours and focus primarily on the bare mechanics of inoculating logs (drill hole, insert spawn, apply wax). On the other hand, the introductory and advanced workshops associated with this project go well beyond log inoculation and also cover laying yard management, spawn and tree selection, forest management, laying yard site design, enterprise development, and a participant visit an established Shiitake farm. The latter we find is especially important to overall advanced workshop-related satisfaction of participants. There are very few commercial Shiitake farms in the Northeast to begin with, and most are not in the business of training beginners. This project on the other hand has assembled 4 farmer advisers from 3 farms who have opened their doors (so to speak) to the many project participants. These site tours to the established Shiitake farms were quite comprehensive and highlighted the difference between small scale limited training events in a non farm setting vs. the complexity, magnitude, and economic and other constraints at a commercial Shiitake farm. Although the quantitative impact of this project on adoption of commercial farming by project participants (the ultimate goal) has not been assessed yet, it is clear that many participants, particularly most of the 54 who have applied to continue with the project, have made a personal commitment to go all the way, i.e. become commercial growers. The project has already had an impact of personal behavior of some of the participants. For example, some have already begun to set up the infrastructure (laying yard, etc.) for commercial production.
In terms of communication / coordination among project staff, we have held several teleconferences before and during the period when the introductory and advanced workshops were conducted. On December 10, 2010 all project staff met at the Agroforestry Resource Center in Green County, NY to assess our progress and plan for the coming two years of the project. By now, everyone of this geographically diverse project staff group is well known to everyone else, which will undoubtedly facilitate accomplishment of the goals of the project. One of the Vermont staff, Bridgett Jamison has developed a comprehensive database of all events, participants and project staff, and responses to workshop evaluation forms that have already and will continue to facilitate inter staff communications and project decision making. As described in the original proposal we intend to foster communication among established Shiitake growers and the new growers that will emerge as a result of this project with the web site Northeast Forest Mushroom Growers Network (http://mushrooms.cals.cornell.edu/). During this first year of this project two new features have been added to the site including an interactive message board that will allow participants to communicate with each other and with project staff, but also to communicate by posting images (worth a thousand words…). Also added to the website is a video “Dana Forest Farm, Waitsfield Vermont” (http://mushrooms.cals.cornell.edu/video.htm) which features Nick Laskovski, one of our project Farmer Advisers, describing commercial Shiitake production at his established mushroom farm.
- Large scale commercial Shiitake production at Green Heron Farms (Steve and Julie Rockcastle, Project Farmer Advisers)
Natural Resource Educator
Agroforestry Resource Center, Cornell Cooperative Extension
6055 Rt. 23
Acra, NY 12405
Office Phone: 5186229820
Green Heron Growers
2361 Wait Corners Rd
Panama, NY 14767
Office Phone: 7167530371
Work With Nature Ecological Design Solutions
PO Box 54
Ithaca, NY 14851
Hawk Meadow Farm
5066 Mott Evans Rd
Trumansburg , NY 14886
Office Phone: 6073873424
Dana Forest Farm
459 Dana Hill Rd.
Waitsfield, VT, , VT 05673
Office Phone: 8025950522
Beginning Farmer and Land Access Program Coordinato
UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture
106 High Point Center, Suite 300
Colchester, VT 05446
Office Phone: 8026569142