About 20 farms in Vermont and New York have been chosen as research sites under a $116,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant provided to the University of Vermont Extension’s Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Cornell University Cooperative Extension in 2010-to produce shiitake mushrooms!
The joint university study, conducted over the last three years, has found that growing mushrooms outdoors can be profitable to farmers with at least 500 logs, bringing in at $11,190 in gross income at $16 a pound, and that demand is greater than supply. This month, the two universities plan to complete a guide for growing shiitake mushrooms in the Northeast.
500-600 people attended a series of workshops conducted by the universities that teach shiitake growing while using resources from managing or thinning their land and forests.
Like other farmers in this region, they’re limited by the cold (the average temperature needs to be above 40-ish); there are larger operations in the state of Pennsylvania where the mushrooms are grown indoors, on compressed sawdust logs in controlled environments (but the Northeast farmers do have the advantage of little, if any, overhead: All that’s needed are hardwood logs, a shady spot in the woods, water from a spring up the hill and a fridge to store the fresh shiitakes in).
On spite of the temperature limitation, the outdoor farms have thrived; one of Vermont’s largest, The Tangled Roots, has grown to 500 logs, with each log producing about half a pound of mushrooms twice a season.
Through the USDA grant, the farm received shiitake spawn, which is inserted into holes drilled into the roughly 3-foot logs.
The holes are then sealed with wax; the logs sit for a year in stacks while the spawn colonizes the wood. A year later, the logs are “shocked” by immersing them in a tub of water, which stimulates them to grow the shiitakes. The logs are then removed from the water and stacked. The shiitakes grow within a week to 10 days.
According to Laura Phelps, president of the American Mushroom Institute (a trade organization for indoor mushroom growers), “Demand of mushrooms is ‘inching up.’ "
Per capita consumption is about 4 pounds per person per year now in the U.S. Shiitakes are just a tiny fraction of the 896 million pounds (!) of fungi produced in the U.S. from 2012 to 2013.
There’s an abundance of nutritional benefits that mushrooms offer: Potassium, selenium, riboflavin and Vitamin D.
The U.S. crop is mostly Agaricus mushrooms, which includes the common white button and the brown mushrooms, such as Portobello and cremini (these two are commonly grown indoors).
Source: “Demand grows for shiitake mushrooms”-Associated Press-The (Sunday) Vindicator, Sept. 29, 2013