The biggest challenge in urban agriculture is space to grow food. Outside of access to available land, soil contamination, water availability and climate are the major concerns and limiting factors (Wortman & Lovell, 2013). One overlooked option in urban agriculture is mycology, mainly mushrooms. The main reasons mushrooms are fantastic for urban agriculture is that they require very little in invested money and can be done in the unused spaces of a home. The main reasons it is not more readily adopted is because it is intimidating. It is not planting seeds and that is scary for many future urban farmers. So how is mycology the answer to urban agriculture inclusion?
Growing mushrooms as a part of urban agriculture is a strong choice. Mushrooms can be grown with great success in plastic containers (bags) and indoors (Grimm & Wosten, 2018). Why is this such an amazing concept? Someone who wants to participate in an urban agriculture movement in their community is not required to find a vacant lot or have a back yard or access to a rooftop. There is no need for expensive grow lights, pumps, or fish tanks. It does require a high degree of sanitation and protocol when starting so as not to cultivate different specimens.
Overcoming the intimidation of growing mushrooms comes from education. A successful urban agriculture community would encourage members to grow mushrooms, even if there is physical land to spare. The waste products from a mycology endeavor can be used in composting for traditional urban agriculture operations very effectively (Dhar & Shrivastava, 2012). Mushrooms offer a variety throughout the year of different flavors and textures. LA FungHI, a local mushroom farming operation in Los Angeles offers a seasonal menu of available product. This is a market filled with opportunity. YouTube and Reddit are both filled with bountiful resources for beginners.
A fun aspect of growing mushrooms is that being an organic operation is very easy to accomplish. The USDA sees the mushrooms, other than white button caps, as specialty crops and is a recognizable product to receive a USDA Organic certification (Ellor, 2020). The same requirements that would be required of other specialty crops to obtain that certificate are required for mushrooms. This means a greater opportunity for income generation within the community as specific species of mushrooms can retail for up to $12 per pound.
The sustainable feature that works best with urban agriculture is that mycological substrate required can be created from certain waste products. Many start-ups have made a successful business model using the waste products from local businesses like coffee shops, while lumber and flour mills can also be a source for substrate (Rangarajan & Riordan, 2019). This is not something that might be available in all communities, but it is a greater possibility as the coffee shop trend is still a successful expansion model. This is encouraging for those looking to get started in urban agriculture as it creates a niche that can be filled by anyone in a community looking to grow delicious food.
Wortman, Sam E., and Lovell, Sarah Taylor. “Environmental Challenges Threatening the Growth of Urban Agriculture in the United States.” Journal of Environmental Quality Vol. 42, 5 (2013): 1283-1603. 01 September 2013
Grimm, Daniel, and Han A B Wösten. “Mushroom cultivation in the circular economy.” Applied microbiology and biotechnology vol. 102,18 (2018): 7795-7803. doi:10.1007/s00253-018-9226-8
Dhar, B.L. & Shrivastava, Neeraj. “Mushrooms and Environmental Sustainability.” (2012) 400 CHAPTER 16Mushrooms and Environmental SustainabilityBL Dhar*, Neeraj ShrivastavaMushroom Research Development and Training Centre (MRDTC)
Ellor, Tina. “Mushrooms and Organic Mushrooms: A Specialty Within A Specialty.” (2020) USDA.gov, US Department of Agriculture, www.usda.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Ellor.pdf.
Rangarajan, A., & Riordan, M. (2019). The Promise of Urban Agriculture: National Study of Commercial Farming in Urban Areas. Washington, DC: United States Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Marketing Service and Cornell University Small Farms Program.