Bob Hanson and his wife Kathy started growing gourmet mushrooms three years ago, and now grow shiitake, oyster mushrooms and portobellos. They sell their entire crop at the Fresno Farmer’s Market, where regular customers line up to buy the freshly harvested mushrooms every week.
Hanson, who believes in sustainable agriculture, grows all his mushrooms in his barn, where “high technology” consists of a fan and a 40 watt light bulb. He keeps the operation small scale, with he and his wife supplying all the labor.
Hanson is fond of his oyster mushrooms, because as he says “They are so easy to grow.” He just mixes spawn with straw and puts the straw in plastic bags with slits. A few weeks later, he has mushrooms.
He’s optimistic about the prospects for small-scale mushroom producers. He knows other growers who sell their fresh gourmet mushrooms to restaurants, and local grocers. Says Hanson: “There are a lot of different niches that a person can go into. As long as you grow a good product, you can market it.”
According to Dr Philip Miles, a biology professor at State University of New York, worldwide production has zoomed to meet the increasing demand. “I am convinced that the consumer demand for exotic mushrooms in the U.S. also promises a growing mushroom market in the future,” says Dr. Miles.
In most areas, it’s hard to consistently find high quality gourmet mushrooms, such as oyster and shiitake. Both have a short shelf life, and do not stand up well to long-distance shipping – a barrier to large mushroom companies. That’s why small local growers will always have the “freshness advantage” with local consumers, who want a high quality product.
Why do consumers like about gourmet mushrooms? With the trend to healthier foods, mushrooms fit the bill nicely. Mushrooms are fat-free, cholesterol-free, pesticide free and have many medicinal benefits. Consumers are also concerned about their food safety, and gourmet mushrooms can be grown without harmful chemicals.
Researchers at the U.S. Forest Products Products Laboratory call gourmet mushrooms ” a promising new industry for the U.S.” They’re an ideal crop, because they can be grown on agricultural waste, such as woodlot thinnings and wheat straw, have a low startup cost, and are adaptable to most parts of the country.A big plus for backyard growers is that, unlike regular mushrooms, which use smelly compost, these mushrooms use odor-free growing material.
Oyster mushrooms are fast growing – ready to harvest in just a month – which gives new growers a fast payback on their investment, as well as the flexibility to easily increase production to meet additional demand.
Oyster mushrooms also produce heavy yields – the average is one pound of mushrooms for each pound of straw used to grow them. Most commercial growers average six “crop cycles” per year. This allows growers to produce lots of mushrooms in a small space. A 200 square foot growing area, for example, can produce 6,000 pounds of mushrooms each year!
Current prices range from a wholesale price of $3 per pound up to $7 per pound when selling direct to the consumer, such as restaurants or at Farmer’s Markets. Prices will vary from area to area, but in general, the freshest, local mushrooms always bring top dollar.
Section 4 of Golden Harvest….Growing and Selling Gourmet Mushrooms gives you all the basic information you’ll need to get started. You’ll learn how to set up a growing area on a budget, where to buy spawn (seed), how to grow and harvest, and where to sell your harvest for top dollar. To learn more about Golden Harvest, click here.