While many growers focus heavily on the technical aspects of production, it is the post-harvest handling and sales that counts in making for a profitable enterprise.
Growers can fetch a premium price for specialty mushrooms , provided they can maintain quality throughout the post-harvest process.
Anyone who is serious about making money with the sale of mushrooms should plan on devoting equal time to learning how to best grow high quality mushrooms as well as the multiple aspects of running a small farm enterprise.
Building a successful enterprise requires a few key steps:
1) Understanding the safe handling of product from harvest to market.
2) Following any relevant regulations for produce and food products.
3) Determining the most efficient market channels and developing sound financial planning for the enterprise.
Navigating the Regulations
The image at right provides an overview of the regulations to consider in selling mushrooms. Note that this diagram is specific to New York State, so if outside of NY check with your state agency to learn more about who regulates various sectors.
Most states differentiate between "Intentionally Cultivated" and "Wild Harvested" Mushrooms for regulatory purposes. Generally, simply selling mushrooms you grow in a designated space as a fresh produce item means you can sell with little or no regulation, at least a smaller scale. As your enterprise scales, you are potentially liable to follow state and/or federal guidelines to ensure food safety.
Wild Mushroom sales generally require passing an exam to demonstrate your ability to properly ID mushrooms and the use of traceability in your labeling practices. Once you want to dry or otherwise process mushrooms you get into the need for a certified kitchen, at least in New York.
Explore the image and note that each of these sections is expanded in greater detail in our harvest to market guide, below.
Explore our FREE guide "From Harvest to Market" was informed and reviewed by multiple educators and growers in the specialty mushroom industry, providing a roadmap for new growers to get started. You can also download a free PDF of the guide here as well.
Post Harvest Handling
A. Food Safety & Sanitation (GAPS and FSMA Regs)
B. Harvest, Cleaning, & Storing
E. Packaging & Labeling
G. Guidance For Wild Mushroom Sale In NYS H. Dehydration
I. Value Added Products
A. Mushroom Identification & Insurance
B. When Am I A Farm? C. Taxes & Ag Assessment D. Business Planning
E. Budgeting & Cash Flow
F. Record Keeping
G. Strategic Marketing/Channel Assessment H. Branding
I. Certification J. Final Thoughts
Indoors: What We Are Learning
Most specialty mushrooms are best cultivated in controlled environment agriculture (CEA) scenarios. In contrast to CEA systems used for greens and herbs, mushrooms can be produced in locations with minimal infrastructure and capital to start and sustain production. Mushroom production can be adapted to abandoned and underutilized farm infrastructure including barns, outbuildings, high tunnels, and storage facilities.
In an urban environment, basements, shipping containers, and warehouse spaces can be easily retrofitted for production. This positions mushrooms to be a system that is accessible to both rural and urban farms and those farmers with limited capital for start-up.
A CEA mushroom system has several advantages, including 1) consistent temperatures (65 to 75 F) can be maintained; 2) automation and monitoring can manage relative humidity, air flow, and lighting; 3) production per square foot can be predicted and altered by modifying the climate; and 4) sanitation can be managed to reduce cross contamination and food safety risks.
As a result of these opportunities, active mushroom growers report better profit potential for indoor production as compared to outdoors. They provided estimates of $1 to $3 per square foot net income, representing a potential $43,560 to $130,680 income per acre. These values are being verified in our research, through simulated production trials at Cornell and in partnership with active growers who are collected data.