Indy Urban Mushrooms: Growing Revenue Through Collaborative Exploration of Mushroom Production

Project Overview

ONC17-023
Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2017: $29,865.00
Projected End Date: 02/28/2019
Grant Recipient: Butler University
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Julia Angstmann
Center for Urban Ecology, Butler University

Information Products

Commodities

  • Miscellaneous: mushrooms

Practices

  • Crop Production: biological inoculants, intercropping, multiple cropping
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, networking
  • Farm Business Management: marketing management, feasibility study, market study
  • Production Systems: permaculture
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, partnerships, urban agriculture

    Proposal abstract:

    Sustainable agriculture is gaining interest in cities due to its ability to reclaim polluted land, minimize food miles, mitigate food deserts, and create entrepreneurial opportunities. Yet, small margins and an over-reliance on vegetable production affect the long-term viability and resiliency of small-scale urban farms. Outdoor mushroom production is a low capital, low overhead, high margin crop, well suited to urban space constraints. Utilizing low productivity areas (flood-prone, shaded, intercropping), small-scale production can be maximized using low-cost waste stream substrates and enhancing soil health. To our knowledge, Indiana has no outdoor mushroom market producers, limiting support for farmers seeking to diversify through this market. The overall goal of the project is to foster farmer collaboration that leverages shared interest, expertise, and experience to create a model of low input diversification that maximizes profitability for small-scale urban farms. Local best practices for outdoor mushroom production in Indianapolis will be explored and trialed at four sub-acre farms in Indianapolis by providing partner farmers with production expertise, start-up resources, and cohesive marketing. This project will more broadly benefit urban farmers throughout the North Central Region by applying expertise from indoor and rural mushroom operations to test viability and profitability in small-scale urban contexts.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The project’s overall goal is to help resource-limited urban farmers trial outdoor mushroom production to diversify crops, income streams, and the local food economy. The following objectives will be pursued:

    Objective 1. Reduce barriers to outdoor mushroom production through training and resources for four Indianapolis urban farmers. 

    In March 2017, farmer partners will participate in a 2-day workshop, led by Mark Jones, Sharondale Mushroom Farm. Topics include fungal biology and ecology, tissue culturing, spawn production, growing methods for various mushroom species, post-harvest handling, marketing, mushroom mycelium revenue, food safety, compliance with USDA-GAPS and organic certifications, value-added products, and customer education—focusing on shiitake, oyster, and king stropharia. Mr. Jones will assist each farmer on-site to determine the ideal location(s) for mushroom production and provide site-specific guidance. Mr. Jones will serve as a project consultant throughout the project.

    Objective 2. Determine feasibility and local best practices for mushroom production in Indianapolis’ urban setting and climate. After the workshop, each farmer partner will determine the waste stream products available (wood chips, logs, sawdust, straw) and order appropriate spawn and supplies. Inoculations will occur in April 2017, with fruiting expected 6-18 months. Each farmer will report to the group: inoculation date, mushroom strain and substrate, site location, shade type, variability in temperature and relative humidity (instrumentation provided by Butler), watering dates, forcing dates (if used), fruiting date, flush yield, and sales revenue.

    In year 2, farmers will conduct new inoculations, if desired, continue to monitor production, and compile best practices on: mushroom species and strains for best yields, obtaining substrates, and manipulating microclimates. Farmers will meet quarterly to discuss trial status and to create collaborative documentation for best practices, marketing, and presentations.

    Objective 3. Research the local market and create cohesive marketing materials for mushrooms in Indianapolis.

    From April–August 2017, farmers will explore the local market for mushrooms by polling customers and retail outlet. Farmer partners will likely sell through four existing main channels: farmers markets, farm stands, CSA programs, and retail sales.

    From September 2017–February 2018, farmers will collaboratively create marketing materials for mushroom products that advertise the new local product in Indianapolis by IndyGrown partners—a network of urban market farms. Minimally, stickers and flyers will be created to promote “Grown in Indy” products and each market farm individually and will highlight the superior taste, freshness, nutritional density, and shelf life of naturally grown, local mushrooms. Materials will be distributed at local farmers markets, farm stands, retail outlets, social media, and using Purdue Extension and Indy Food Council partnerships. Each farmer will also undertake individual marketing efforts.

    Objective 4. Disseminate findings to regional farmers through field days, the Indiana Small Farms Conference, and online documentation.

    June 2018­–August 2018, farmers will host field days for Indianapolis’ 130 growers. Best practices documentation and factsheets will be posted onto the Butler University, IndyGrown, and Purdue Extension websites by February 2019. Farmers will present outcomes to other local farmers at the Indiana Small Farms Conference in March 2019. Because all farmer partners have a mission to educate the Indianapolis community about local, sustainable foods, the benefits of mushrooms will be shared with K12 students, community gardeners, and college students through farm tours.

    Outcomes

    This project will have positive outcomes for farmer partners, other regional growers, local consumers, and Indianapolis and regional urban food systems. Farmer partners will forge deeper collaborations with one another while acquiring new skills, will benefit from collaborative marketing, and will increase economic viability through low-input product diversification. The expansion of products offered will enrich the local food system by providing nutrients unique to non-animal products. At the end of the project, farmer partners will complete a survey to determine how this experience changed their knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Success will also be measured quantitatively through measurements of yield and revenue and the development of best practices.

    This project will develop best practices and reduce barriers in the North Central Region for mushroom production in small-scale urban operations, with unique resource constraints. Product diversification via mushrooms will enrich local markets, provide financial stability, and enhance nutritional offerings in local communities. The impact of the project beyond the four participating farmers will be determined by the number of individuals attending field days and conference presentations as well as working with Purdue Extension to monitor urban agriculture in Indianapolis to determine if others try mushroom production.

    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.