Mushroom Cottage Industry
Every so often someone will publish an article suggesting that mushroom cultivation is a way to get rich quick. Then someone else will come along with their “dose of reality” and point out how expensive it is, how fussy it is, how complicated it is, and how terribly impractical it is for anyone to do on a shoestring budget, and how long it takes to profit from it.
First of all, I'm no novice to business. I've started many, always on a shoestring, and I've worked with a very wide variety of small startups – not the kind that the government classes as startups (with VC funding, massive debt, stockholders, etc), but real startups. People starting a business in a corner of their livingroom – they don't even have a basement or spare room. So I know a viable opportunity when I see one. And mushrooms ARE a viable opportunity.
There are some myths out there. Buy into these, and you'll kill your chances before you even get started.
First myth, that if you are going to grow mushrooms, you have to do it the way everyone else is doing it.
Second myth, that you have to compete with the established vendors on their terms, which puts you at an immediate disadvantage.
So, let's get into what that actually means.
Read up on mushroom cultivation,and you'll be so boggled by the time you are done that you'll be in a fit of depression. They talk like they are speaking to scientists, and like you have the money to set up temperature and humidity controlled automation systems in a specifically designed gro-house, with a cement warf and automatic compost turning system outside. No way! That is just WAY too hard, and way too complicated. Your average person, even if they LOVE mushrooms, is just not going to be able to do that!
The good news is, you don't have to. First off, what they are describing is primarily White Button cultivation. And even that, they do wrong. Seriously! They are doing it on an industrial basis, not on a cottage basis, and that very premise sets them up for a Catch-22 of problems which they have to exercise ever more control and ever more expense to contain, and which they never CAN contain because they started out wrong in the first place. (And to make things worse, White Buttons are the LEAST profitable mushroom to grow!)
So, start with nature. Don't start with “how do mushroom growers do this?” because mushroom growers do it in an unsustainable environment.
Start with outdoor cultivation, on a seasonal basis. This DOES impact profits, because you are not producing year-round. But it also reduces your costs exponentially.
Additionally, use the resources you HAVE, and choose mushrooms based on that.
Instructions on growing mushrooms generally call for either finished compost, or fresh logs, or fresh sawdust. They may also call for various other industrial waste products, which mushrooms don't naturally grow on in the wild. This is all determined REGARDLESS of what the mushroom really wants to grow on – it is determined by two completely irrelevant factors:
- What the industry considers to be the “most sterile” medium. In other words, finished, heat sterilized compost, heat sterilized sawdust, and fresh logs on which no other fungus has visibly colonized.
- What the industry considers to be the most economical materials. They'd rather grow it on industrial waste, because they can get that cheap. It isn't what is best for the mushrooms, and it isn't the least expensive option for the small farmer.
You don't have to do it like that. You can experiment with available natural materials. Make friends with people who have animals who want manure removed. Make friends with people who have land with woods, who want timber cleared. Make friends with home owners who want leaves and grass raked. There is plenty of free stuff out there if you just go get it.
Mushrooms grow perfectly well in the wild – and you can duplicate those environs fairly easily on a seasonal basis, and without too much difficulty year-round, with just a little creativity.
The second issue is competing with the giants of the industry on their terms. If you think that you have to grow massive amounts of mushrooms and sell them wholesale to make a profit, you're doomed before you start out. You won't be able to produce enough to get good prices, and you'll be selling wholesale, not retail – a big difference in prices (often as much as 10 to 20 times more for retail), and you'll be in over your head in debt that you'll never recoup, just creating facilities large enough to produce enough to profit just a tiny bit.
Small businesses that make a profit BEING small businesses do so marketing direct to the customer. Sell your mushrooms right to the end user. That means at farmer's markets, through co-ops, or through a website. There's a HUGE reason for this – for one, you sell RETAIL, not WHOLESALE, and there is a monstrous difference there. If you sell wholesale, the supply chain (the purchasing agent, the processing plant, the shipping companies, the regional distribution system, and the grocery store) take the majority of the profits. And if you sell wholesale you are selling commodities that are common, and high competition, which means they have the lowest prices to begin with. So when you sell direct to the customer, you keep it all – you DO it all as well. But at least you get paid for it.
Selling fresh is a high risk thing, and we recommend that you avoid it where possible, or have a dried or preserved product as backup.
There is far more liability with fresh, because you can't assure that it is really clean. I don't care about that – I know that when I cook it, it will be safe anyway. But some people don't get that, and you could end up in trouble with the USDA if your food is perceived to be “contaminated”, whether it actually caused a problem, or it was just the kid playing in the back yard who picked up a bug and spread it to the mother's hand, and she neglected to wash before she grabbed your mushroom. Doesn't matter – they had mushrooms for dinner, so mushrooms MUST have caused the contamination, and you'll be sunk even if your farm turns up clean on the tests. Nobody will want to prove that you DIDN'T do it.
Fresh mushrooms have to be SOLD before they decay also. Getting stuck with unsold product that rots is a situation which needs to be avoided. If you sell fresh, you need to have a pull point, where the mushrooms are sent to the drying room, or to other preservation stations so you don't lose the harvest.
So, that means selling dried, canned, pickled, or powdered mushrooms, or mushroom growing kits, spawn, etc. The food products are all heat sterilized in some way before they leave your facility, and people aren't eating the other ones. Lots of products to choose from that fit the bill.
Some markets are saturated – that means you really can't break in with a small farm and actually profit. There are a couple of keys to making a good profit:
- You need to sell differently than the competition. They are all selling 1-2 types of mushrooms, pretty much all the same types, and pretty much just dried mushrooms or gro-kits. Do it different.
- Sell more than one variety of mushroom. If you do this, then you need to sell 5 or more. Alternately, do the next thing on this list.
- Sell something unique – a special mix, a mushroom snack food, a special dried mushroom type that they CAN'T get anywhere else. Do something totally unique.
Look at the competition. You'll find 50 websites out there all selling the same thing. Whatever they are doing, don't do that. Ok, so you CAN do that, but do it WITH something special. Then when people come to you for the something special, they'll get the rest of their mushroom stuff from you too.
Now, once you have that figured out, here's the trick to getting started on a shoestring:
- Locate a supply of logs, sawdust, compost, etc, that does not require paying for it (or which you know you can afford). Barter, and be willing to work for it.
- Research which mushrooms can grow on what you can get, and which ones will grow well in your climate. Start there - lower cost, higher profit.
- Select from those mushrooms, so that you have something in demand, and that you can create a unique product from. Make sure you have a unique product that you can sell well.
- Create a website for your product. Do it NOW, so it will be going when your mushrooms bear. Just put a Zero in the stock control in your cart so they show as sold out. Talk to co-ops, research local farmer's markets, etc. Base your prices in your shopping cart and on your locally sold products, by an average of other websites, and an average of what others are selling it for locally. We build websites professionally, as well as grow mushrooms, so this advice is professional advice!
- Purchase mushroom spawn – if you can't afford anything else, get a syringe full of spores, but make sure the company is reputable (cheapest ones are usually non-viable). Otherwise, purchase a sawdust growkit and create your own spawn once the kit fruits.
- Prepare your growing beds or bins or logs. An old chest freezer with the motor out, and some vents cut in the lid gasket makes a great growing environment for some types of compost mushrooms. Buckets with substrate, bins or laundry baskets, or even garbage bags can contain spawn outdoors. Logs can be stacked, and stumps can be used also.
- Inoculate your beds or bins, or logs. Make sure they are well set for the spawn run.
- Create your labels for your finished products, and print up business cards with your website URL, and maintain your beds, bins, or logs while you are doing this.
- Once the mushrooms start pinning, maintain them for fruiting.
- Get your packaging containers if you are selling mushroom products.
- As the mushrooms fruit, gather them, process them.
- If you are doing kits, create new spawn from some of the mushrooms, and be ready for creating kits.
- Enter in some stock numbers in your shopping cart, so that the items are active.
- Attend local farmer's markets, get with your co-op, etc, to market your products locally. Be sure to hand out business cards everywhere, with your URL on them.
This takes some gas in your car, an internet connection, the money for spawn, a website (you can do that free if you have to, but it may not work as well), money for labels and ink, business cards, and packaging containers. You can get started on less than $100 if you need to, and do the rest with legwork and grunt work. You WORK UP to a larger profit, you start with small returns and grow by reinvesting early returns.
This business model works if you can stick it out and market market market your stuff. If you are willing to work hard and be friendly and determined, you can make a profit at it.
So no, it is not a get rich quick option. But it is a Work to Profit option which has as good a chance of earning as anything else I've ever done (and I've done a LOT that worked).
So roll up your sleeves and get to work. And let us know if you need a pointer or two.
This Organization and Website are dedicated to the Preservation, Cultivation, and Wise Use of Culinary and Medicinal Mushrooms. We do NOT assist with cultivation or preservation of recreational mushrooms.
Mushrooms may cause allergic reactions in sensitive people. Some mushrooms are more likely to do this than others. Please research possible reactions prior to use. We are not responsible for how you choose to use our information, and do not claim that mushrooms are completely safe to consume.
We do not make any claims as to the efficacy of any mushroom product to treat or prevent any disease or condition. We are not medical professionals and will not provide advice on alternative medicine use for any mushroom. Please consult a doctor or alternative practitioner prior to using any mushroom product for treatment of any disease or illness.
We cannot guarantee that any spawn, spore, or kit product will grow or produce mushrooms. Gardening of any kind is a chancy business, and success depends upon adherence to instructions, and may be influenced by weather, environmental factors, and other controllable and non-controllable factors. As such, we cannot guarantee your success, and advise that if you are uncomfortable with purchasing instructions from us under these terms, that you refrain from purchase.
We do promise to answer your questions, and offer reasonable assistance if needed, and to correct any errors if a mistake is made on our part.
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