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

    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 was explored and trialed at four sub-acre farms in Indianapolis by providing partner farmers with production expertise, start-up resources, and shared resources. 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:

    The project’s overall goal was 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. 

    Objective 2. Determine feasibility and local best practices for mushroom production in Indianapolis’ urban setting and climate. 

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

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

    Overall Project Outcomes:

    This project had positive outcomes for farmer partners, other regional growers, local consumers, and Indianapolis and regional urban food systems. Farmer partners forged deeper collaborations with one another while acquiring new skills, benefitted from resource sharing, and increased their farm’s economic viability through low-input product diversification. The expansion of products offered enriched, and will continue to enhance, the local food system by providing nutrients unique to non-animal products. At the end of the project, farmer partners completed a survey to understand how this funded project changed their knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Success was also measured quantitatively through measurements of yield and revenue and the development of best practices documentation.

    The most impactful local outcomes of the project were twofold. First, farmers that wouldn’t normally collaborate and support one another—either because they work in isolation, are direct competitors, have differing reasons for growing, or are more experienced or less experienced than others—discovered that they benefitted from collaboration around a common goal of mushroom production. We expect these farmer partners to continue collaborating and supporting one another in the future, which may be particularly important for the more inexperienced growers and for growers without support of a larger organization such as a university or non-profit. Secondly, by establishing a clean inoculation room for independent spawn production, farmers have a physical space with which to meet and collaborate, but will also save money and diversity mushroom varieties offered in Indianapolis. More broadly impactful, this local spawn production and planned future training of mushroom production with other urban growers will bolster the local market for mushrooms in Indianapolis.

    Overall the project developed best practices and reduced barriers in the North Central Region for mushroom production in small-scale urban operations, with unique resource constraints. Product diversification via mushrooms have the potential enrich local markets, provide financial stability, and enhance nutritional offerings in local communities. The impact of the project beyond the four participating farmers was showcased by outreach and education to over 2,000 people through individual farm tours, workshops, and local (Indiana Small Farms) and national (Our Farms, Our Future) 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.