Cultivation of shiitake mushrooms as an agroforestry crop for New England
The project, “Cultivation of Shiitake Mushrooms as an Agroforestry Crop for New England” sought to prepare farmers and other forest owners to become commercial Shiitake grower by training them not only in basic methods of shiitake cultivation, but unlike most shiitake trainings and demonstrations, this project went on to train participants in associated skills including forest management, laying yard site selection and design, and enterprise development. The project also aimed to define and refine best management practices for outdoor log-based shiitake mushroom production in the northeastern United States.
During the first year, the project provided 225 farmers and woodlot owners with instruction and hands-on training in the basics of log-grown Shiitake mushroom cultivation and 105 farmer with additional training in advanced cultivation techniques and woodlot development. Due to the overwhelming interest, the project arranged an additional 5 introductory workshops, in 2011. The workshops, held in Vermont, New York, and New Hampshire, and trained an additional 135 participants in basic cultivation techniques. Later, during the fall of 2011, 38 people attended an advanced enterprise development workshop at either of 2 locations (Hartland VT or Ithaca, NY). The advanced workshops included training in value added product processing and enterprise planning.
In addition introductory and advanced workshops, the project also sought to determine (1) the profitability of a shiitake enterprise and (2) the most productive means of growing them in northeastern forests. In 2011, 56 applicants submitted a detailed assessment of their resources and commitment to become commercial shiitake growers and from this group we selected 23 participants (beginning growers) to take part in a two year study. For each participant, one of the project farm advisors or other members of the project team advised and assisted project participants (on site) to inoculate more than 2,400 bolts. Participants also recorded all their startup expenses and labor inputs as well as laying yard and other details. These results were compiled into a report describing the average costs and workload associated with starting and small shiitake mushroom operation. During 2012, when the logs are expected to produce their first harvest of mushrooms, participants will record production rates on different types of logs, sales statistics, labor inputs, and expenses.
Performance Target One
20 farmers will use best management practices to develop an agroforestry enterprise on their farm woodlot for production of log-grown shiitake mushrooms. Farmers will produce 100 pounds of mushrooms the first year, averaging at least $1200 in income, for a total of $24,000 of Shiitake mushrooms.
Milestone One – Achieved Summer 2010
225 farmers participated in one of 3 identical Introductory Mushroom workshops held at 3 sites in Northeast to learn basic skills and results of past research in Shiitake production. These greatly exceed the original milestone of 80. Attendees at this introductory workshops received basic training in log inoculation, spawn selection, log varieties and laying yard techniques.
Milestone Two– Achieved Fall 2010
105 farmers participate in a advanced workshops which included a site visits to a experienced shiitake growers farm. Afterwards, participants responded to a survey identifying key lessons learned and express interest in establishing their own production. These greatly exceeded the ordinal milestone of 60 farmers.
Milestone Three– Achieved Winter 2010
63 farmers developed their own Site Assessment design and draft enterprise plan as part of an application to participate in long-term shiitake mushroom research. These greatly exceeded the ordinal milestone of 40 famers.
Milestone Four – Achieved Winter 2011
Twenty three farmers were selected as participants in the shiitake mushroom research project Participants were provided with a fifty-page guide which detailed the shiitake mushroom production best management practices, project guideline and data sheet where they could record they expenses, labor, sales and production.
Milestone Five – Achieve Spring 2011
Working with a project farm advisor, or other project staff, More than 23 farmers inoculated at least 100 logs on their farms. Farmers recorded startup expenses and labor inputs as well as details about the logs they inoculated. For each participant, an array of economic, social, and demographic characteristics was also collected.
Milestone Six: Achieved Fall 2011
More than 20 participants attend an Enterprise Development Workshops at either of 3 sites in the Northeast. The goal of these workshops was for each farmer to develop a 5 year shiitake enterprise plan.
Milestone Four – Achieved Winter 2011
The primary aim of the second and third years of the project is to track the profitability and management practices of twenty upstart shiitake mushroom enterprises. In 2010, we invited participants of the workshops and other northeastern farmers to apply to be part of the long-term project. The extensive application required applicants perform a site assessment, describe their laying yard, and draft an enterprise plan. We received nearly 60 applications.
From this large sample, we selected 26 participants – 13 from New England and 13 from the Mid-Atlantic region. Farmers were selected based on the suitability of their site, the size and diversity of their existing enterprise, and their capacity to succeed and meet the requirements of the project.
Each of these 26farmer was then asked to sign a contract agreeing to their participation in the project. They were also provided with a fifty-page research guide containing:
• Instruction on how to utilize the Northeastern Forest Mushroom Growers Network (http://mushrooms.cals. cornell.edu) and mushroom listserv
• Task lists for each year of the project
• Detailed information regarding best management practices for each aspect of production. This information was a compilation of data from research performed in other regions of the country, suggestion from experimented growers (project farm advisors), and recent research performed by Mudge, et al., at Cornell University.
• Detailed instructions outlining how to organize logs in laying yard to facilitate accurate data collection
• Worksheets for farmers to record their labor, expenses, production and sales along with detailed instruction on how to complete the forms.
Developing the research methodology was difficult. It needed to be simple enough for farmers to use and would also provide clear and meaningful data. We decided on a system wherein participants collect and report information on log stacks, rather than individual logs. Each log stacks consist of 20 logs that have similar characteristics including tree species, felling date, and inoculation date. Through the duration of the experiment, a given stack will undergo the same treatments on the same days. For example, all the logs in a certain stack should be shocked (soaked 24 hours to induce fruiting) on the same day in the same manner for the same length of time. Participants will then record their mushroom production, per stack rather than per log.
To standardize the recordkeeping, we created a system though which farmer’s classified all their expenses and activities in categories (eg. Laying Yard Maintenance, Cutting Trees, Inoculation, etc.). For examples, every time they completed work related to their shiitake enterprise, they were asked to also record (1) the date, (2) the type of person who performed the work, (3) the number of hours worked and number of people working and (4) the aspect of shiitake mushroom production their work focused on. Farmers were also asked to record information about yield on a per stack basis. All of these directions were carefully laid out in the research guide, along with hypothetical examples that farmer’s could reference. For those farmers who preferred to record the data electronically, we also generated an electronic spreadsheet. In this way, farmers could record the data quickly is a means that could be easily compared between farms.
Milestone Five – Achieved Spring 2011
After choosing participants the project, the next goal of the project was to ensure they inoculated the requisite 100 logs, divided them correctly into group, and understood how to record the data. First, farmers were asked to select a timeframe during which they would inoculate their logs. We then arranged to have the spawn sent to them around the time of inoculation. We also arranged to have a farmer advisor or other member of the team visit each farmer on the day they began inoculation. Each advisor offered his/her physical assistance in moving, inoculating and drilling the logs. In addition, they measured the diameter of each log in each stack in order to obtain an estimate of the volume of logs in each stack. (This information was critical in order to compare yields between stacks). Lastly, the advisors collected an array of economic, social, and demographic characteristics regarding each farm and the physical information about the laying yard. This information will be valuable as we begin to analyze yields between farms.
As part of this project, participants inoculated 660 Acer saccharum, 480 Quercus rubra, 400 Fagus granifolia, 180 Carpinus caroliniana, and 140 Quercus alba bolts. In total more than 2,300 bolts were inoculated with shiitake spawn during the spring of 2011. The majority of the bolts were taken from trees cut late in February and March (Figure3). Most of the bolts were inoculated between early April and early May (Figure3).
Milestone Six: Achieved Fall 2011
In the fall of 2012, we conducted two enterprise development workshops: one at Cobb Hill Cohousing Community Buildin in central Vermont and another at Arnot Forest, near Ithaca NY. Although we had originally planned on hosting three workshops, we decided only two were necessary based on the participants’ availability and proximity to each other. Participants were asked to register for one the workshops. In addition, participants listed specific information they wanted to learn about during the workshop and what types of value added products they planned on selling. In this way, we were able to tailor out workshops to the needs and wants of the participating farmers.
Farmers responded overwhelmingly that they were interested in dry mushrooms and had questions regarding how to produce them. In response, we put together a short factsheet outlining how to process mushroom (See Appendix) based on the recommendations of experienced shiitake farmers.
The workshops were very successful. During each six hour workshop, we summarized the results from the first spring and summer, and discussed on how to utilize potential markets, develop a successful enterprise. Although originally intended to be a formal presentation, the workshops because a venue for the projects participants to discuss their questions and concerns regarding everything from log selection to mushroom sales with each other and experience growers. A number of very interesting and helpful discussions developed during the workshop. Information gained from participants and project staff during these workshops and other occasions will be incorporated into the Best Management Practices for Growing Shiitake Mushrooms in the Northeast Shiitake., which is one of the overall goals of this project.
In addition to the enterprise development workshops, due to popular demand, we also hosted an additional 5 introductory workshops. During 2011, five introductory shiitake cultivation workshops were help in Vermont, New York and New Hampshire. Exact dates and locations are shown in Table 1. The workshops aimed to provide participants with an introduction to shiitake mushroom production, harvest and sales. 134 people, from 8 different states, attended the workshops.
In all workshops, over three-quarters of the participants ranked the information presented as very useful. 85% of participants wrote that the training “help[ed] with [their] understanding of the issues related to Shiitakes as an enterprise a great deal”. 91% felt they were “very likely to use the information presented”. Every single reviewer indicated that they would “recommend repeating this training for others”. Of the reviewers, 96% indicated they were interested in inoculated shiitake logs, and 96% were interested in joining on-going workshops and research.
- Figure 2. Example of Worksheets completed by participants as part of the research project.
- Figure 3. Timeframe during which trees were felled to generate research bolts and research bolts were inoculated with mycelium.
- Summary of 2011 research results
- Booklet summarizing production techniques
- Figure 1. Location of each participant, farm advisor and project coordinator displayed on a map of New England
- Handout summarizing processing techniques
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The project received a great deal of attention from the media this year. One of the farm advisors, Nick Laskovski, was featured in Across the Fence, an agricultural information television program produced in association with the University of Vermont Extension Service. The program, entitled, “Shiitake Mushrooms at Dana Forest Farm”, highlighted the SARE research project and was aired on 8/22/11. Allen Matthews, the CO-PI was featured WCAX on April 4, 2010 during a prime-time interview on Shiitake Research initiative funded by NE SARE. In addition, the newspaper, the Addison County Independent wrote an article entitled “Study eyes mushrooms as cash crop” was published on May 9, 2011; the article summarized the SARE Research initiative and interviewed one project participant about his experiences beginning a shiitake enterprise. At the MacDaniels Nut Grove, an outdoor forest farming classroom at Cornell, the Ithaca Journal (October 3, 2011) published an article featuring cultivation of shiitake mushrooms, A Forest Is More Than Trees in a story in the Ithaca Journal. In an article in the NY Times (April, 14, 2010) Do-It-Yourself Mushrooms, Mudge was interviewed and quoted regarding commercial production of shiitake.Through these media outlets, we greatly expanded our outreach.
Commutations between growers
One of the aims of this product was to facilitate communication between experienced growers and people starting an operation. This was achieved through the creation of a listerv. To get connected to the Mushroom listserv: Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.. In the Subject line type: MUSHROOMS. In the body of the e-mail, type: subscribe MUSHROOMS YOUR_EMAIL_ADDRESS The listserv currently contains 81 subscribers. This year, there were over 50 conversations occurred over the listserv regarding everything from bolt sales to drying techniques to communal equipment purchases. A project-related website, Northeast Forest Mushroom Growers Network (Mushroom.cals.cornell.edu) also included a discussion component, and a map identifying grower locations and specialties.
New Information emerging from our work:
In 2011, the project completed the first real-work assessment of the costs and labor associated with starting a shiitake mushroom enterprise in the northeast. This project was unique in that it tracked the expense and labor or real farmers in the northeast rather than estimating the cost based on assumptions. 23 farmers were included in the study. Starting a small scale shiitake mushroom operation took farmers and helpers and average to 67 person hours. Of those hours, and average of 34.5% were worked by volunteers or friends (Figure 4). However there was substantial variation between the numbers of hours each participant invested in the operation, particularly the number of hours of labor contributed by volunteers and friends. Increasing the hours worked by volunteers did not necessarily affect the amount of time invested by owners; there is no relationship between the number of hours worked by participating farmers and those worked by volunteers and friends. Most of the time spent staring a shiitake mushroom operation was dedicated to inoculating the bolts (43%) and felling trees (39%). There was little time spent preparing the shiitake laying yard (16%).
Participant stating a 100 bolt shiitake mushroom operation, spent on average 442.00 dollars. Of this, money 70% was spent on durable goods like chainsaws, angle grinders, and inoculation tools (Figure 5). For participants, more than fifty percent of the expenses went toward equipment and supplies associated with inoculating logs. The cost of the logs themselves, gasoline and equipment to fell and cut trees also made up a sizeable portion of their total expenses (20%).
To see more results from the first year of the project, download the document entitled “Second Year Annual Report”.
During 2011, the project produced a wide variety of outreach materials. Unlike the outreach materials currently available to farmers, these were tailored to small enterprises and the climate and forests of New England. We produced the fifty page research guide that was provided to participants for free and sold at workshops. In addition, the group put together 5 page booklets over-viewing all aspects of mushrooms production and harvest and that provided to all workshop participants. We also produced a factsheet outline details on how to dry mushrooms, and a self-guided-tour pamphlet for visitors to the MacDaniels Nut Grove in Ithaca, NY.
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