Reviving the Wood Economy

As summer melts into fall I'm compelled to begin posting to the blog again. It's not that I didn't have anything to post during the summer, but its simply the result of so many hours spent outside, and so little time on the computer. This past growing season proved to be the busiest yet; as my partner Liz and I purchased land, moved and built a yurt we bought from some folks over the hill, and managed 50 ducks and 1,000 mushroom logs. All of this on top of part-time employment for Cornell Cooperative Extension and Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute, teaching gardening and permaculture to the public. It's nice to have some time to write again.

In fact, I've been prepping myself for the next blog post for some time, but there wasn't a topic that seemed to grab me at first. This website and blog was originally created to discuss and promote agroforestry strategies and concepts in a time where we need to rapidly step away from the consumption of fossil fuels and our dependance on unsustainable agriculture processes. It has long been my notion that the agriculture I want to participate in is one the leaves in its wake a forest; that someday when I walked away trees would be left in my footprints. This notion is what has led to my interest in forestry, in mushrooms, and in grazing animals underneath a canopy. And recently reading and article about vehicles powered by wood, I began looking thinking about this in a bigger picture sense;

Our area is threatened with a push from industry to drill deep into the ground and extract natural gas in order to feed our addiction to dense, ancient, and non-renewable forms of energy. While arguments from both sides highlight this possible benefit or that possible risk; the reality is that we simply don't know what hydrofracking is capable of, except that it is likely to have adverse effects. Inevitably a truck will spill (or dump) fracking waste; inevitably a well casing (or many) will fail and leach chemicals into the water table, inevitably many incidents will happen. As one example among piles of them, Dr. Anthony Ingraffea of Cornell University established that Marcellus Shale well casings have failed at a rate of 6.2% in Pennsylvania in 2010 and 2011, and this was based on data from the the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. At a lecture I saw him present he asked, "would you get on a plane whose engine failed 6.2% of the time?"
Brainstorm of the potential wood economy

The reality with fossil fuel extraction is that it is extremely resource intensive. It does not give back to the communities it takes so much from. It is not a technology that is within local means of control and access; you and I cannot personally gain access to natural gas, and so are forced to purchase it from a multi-national corporation. The only possible benefit is money for a few; and yet even this potential boom is a short term gain. I personally am tired of seeing proposed "solutions" such at these which have at best a small benefit and at worst destroy our homes and communities. If we do not believe and seek to find win-win-win situations, we are certainly destined for ultimate failure, that is, the collapse of society. There are plenty of examples of systems that benefit communities, individuals, economies, and the environment. And the good news is that by nature these systems have to be decentralized, localized, with the tools and means of production in the hands of the people.

I'm really not spouting some utopian fantasy, but a simple truth. When we engage with biological systems (versus industrial) as the basis of a local economy, we very quickly see the possibility of these win-win-win situations. And in the end, the goals we set for our communities determine the outcomes we seek. As I stated, my goal is to leave in my footprints a healthy and diverse forest. But I have to eat, and I have to make a living. Enter the Wood Economy; a necessary and appropriate system where wealth is not in dollars but in our local resources; it is not far away in holes buried deep in the ground, it is all around us in the cultivation and maintenance of a healthy local environment. It is not dependent on far away decision making and policy of the 1% in some government office, but in the backyards, farms, and community centers of out local neighborhoods, towns, and counties.

The wood economy starts in a typical northeastern forest; a small patch of woods that was likely left at some time in recent history by a farmer, who either couldn't farm the site because it was too steep or rocky or wet, or left the woods so he/she could harvest some firewood or maybe some timber. If we view the forest as a library of genetics, then the reality is that most of the good books are long gone; harvested and sent to the saw mill. The exception are a few large trees still in the hedgerows, their genetics the story of thousands of years of adaption to disease, pests, and climate change.

We also have perhaps the only benefit of a rapid decline in the percentage of our population as farmers; the abandonment of farm fields and the regrowth of another generation of forests; most less than 100 years old. The forests most of us walk through today are young, vulnerable, and immature. I often call these "teenage forests," as they are trying to find their way in the world. And they are. We can leave these forests to sort themselves out over the next several hundred years, and they might do just fine. But today's forests have an unprecedented amount of stress due to pests, disease, and a changing climate. We also inevitably need wood products. So, if we are to usher in a healthy forest economy, if we want to give our forests the best chance in the face of everything coming their way, we need to participate in steering their growth and succession.

The good news is that there is plenty of positive intervention we humans can enact on our forest ecosystems. This is how I began farming mushrooms. As noted in a previous post, often a young forest benefits from a thinning around 20 - 25 years in age; and it just so happens that the size of the logs (4 - 8" in diameter) are perfect for mushroom cultivation. A win-win-win! Sold at $16 - $20/lb, mushrooms give me an economic incentive to spend time in the woods, a job in other words. The forest benefits from the thinning. And my community benefits from a highly nutritious and medicinal food.

As I thin the woods for mushroom logs, I also inevitably end up with firewood. So, two yields for my efforts - and now incentive for harvesting not only sugar maple, oak, and beech (preferred for mushrooms), but also red maple, ash, hickory, and other hardwoods. My friend and co-forester Lance Ebel of New Leaf Environmental also found a market for "camp-wood" - i.e. the $5 bundles campers pick up when they come to our area state parks for a camping trip. Outdoor fires are not like woodstove fires - you don't want the hardwoods but softwoods that burn hot and bright. And so, we now have an incentive to pull spruce, pine, and basswood from the forest. Finally, a recent surge in interest for gardens has grown the demand for black locust for fence posts, as it is highly rot resistant. As we harvest these products, the key though is that we leave the healthy trees and take the damaged, diseased, or undesired species - thereby leaving the forest better than we found it. This is the beginning of the forest economy.

There are so many possible ways to branch out from here. (pun intended!) Over the next multiple blog posts I'll zero in on some of these concepts, all of which together offer opportunities for jobs, improved environmental health, and increased community control over it's resources. As a farmer and educator of permaculture and ecological management, I'm compelled to find others interested in this topic because as I have found, I cannot make a livelihood if it is not connected to the livelihoods of others. Alone, or with only a few others, there is no economy. It takes a community with foresters, loggers, landowners, basket weavers, wood artists, farmers, and consumers to make this work. I know of very few who currently make their living from the forest; and yet there is ample room for people.


Ducks are not Chickens

 Are ducks the better "permaculture poultry"?


When my partner Liz and I first got interested in raising ducks, the reasons were two fold; we wanted to try something other than chickens, and I wanted to stop having to pick slugs off of mushrooms. We are now in our second season, having gone a peak population of seven ducks last year to over 50 this season. We are raising ducks for eggs and meat, the latter being part of a NE-SARE funded research project.

One of the most striking things I've found about duck raising is the complete lack of good literature guiding newbies along on the process, especially when compared to the volumes and volumes on chickens. In fact, many resources imply that ducks are pretty much like chickens when it comes to husbandry. Well, I've found this NOT to be the case in many regards.

I find it curious that ducks are so uncommonly considered as more people get into raising their own poultry in the US. Indeed, along with promoting mushrooms as an alternative crop, I see in my future efforts to promote ducks as alternative poultry.

Here are some of the unique characteristics of ducks, good and bad:

WATER - they need lots!
We've found that our ducks are happiest when they have access to a water font in addition to a small tub they can bathe in. While not essential to their survival, the pool clearly makes them love life. Since ducks root around in the ground, they need water they can submerge their heads into to clean out their nostrils. This is why the water also gets really dirty quick. I've realized there is a difference between sorta dirty and this-needs-changing-now dirty. It's better to use a small tub and change more often then try and get away with

FORAGING - they are real good at it.
Ducks are incredible foragers. The few books out there claim that some breeds may be able to forage for almost 100% of their own diet. We've certainly noticed a reduction in feed costs vs chickens for mature birds, though this is at best anecdotal. The research I'm doing this year will determine how much we actually feed, and we'll actually see if the difference is as much as we think.

Probably my favorite aspect to their foraging is that ducks don't till/scratch like chickens, but instead borrow into the soil with their beaks. This means that while they can remove seeds and insects as they forage like chickens, they don't turn over and decimate the soil. In fact, I think the rooting promotes healthy aeration of the soil, without destroying it's structure. This quality also means that ducks can be grazed in forested settings, as they won't destroy the leaf cover and understory like chickens would.

POOP - the good and the bad
One of the first questions I get asked about ducks (after, don't they need a pond?) is "doesn't their poop stink real bad?" to which I always reply; "yes, but all animal poop, mismanaged, stinks real bad." We are currently figuring out what best management practices work for ducks, especially for our 50 ducks who currently poop a lot and yes, it does add up and stink. Three things we've learned are 1) keep their bedding fresh 2) leave the water out of the duck house at night (except when they are young) to minimize water spillage inside 3) rotate them around. We are working to manage this waste as a resource, as duck manure is highly nutritious (like chicken) and useful for on site fertility.

HOW THEY EAT - they swallow food whole
Unlike chickens, who will peck at things for hours and pre-digest food in a gullet before swallowing, ducks take their food whole. This is a VERY significant difference because it means that ducks can be used in agricultural situations as a pest control while the plants are growing. Only the tender greens and shoots will be tempting for ducks. This is a big difference to chickens as they are often useful to the garden at the beginning and end of the season, but never during, as they'll annihilate a garden in short order.


Ducks are extremely disease and cold tolerant; we don't have to concern ourselves as much with mites or foot rot or anything of the like (as long as the bedding stays clean) and the cold tolerance is key; duck houses don't need to be heavily insulated come winter and ducks are happy to get wet and dry out, whereas chickens can easily get cold and need to be kept dry.

When I teach permaculture, I have often used the chicken to demonstrate the principle of "multiple functions" as seems to be the tradition in permaculture circles. Indeed, Bill Mollison wrote about the chicken as a prime example of "looking at plants & animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system."

When any animal is seen as a member of an ecosystem, everything changes. I don't view my ducks as primarily egg or meat producers. In fact I consider these products to be surplus of the main roles ducks play in sustainable systems: pest control, foraging, fertilizing. The growing niche markets for duck eggs and meat simply encourage me to raise more of them; but even a half dozen ducks would add a wonderful element to any garden or farm system.

While clearly this post offers a favoring opinion of ducks, I really can't say they are a "better" choice for those interested in integrated farming/gardening systems. As with many decisions, it depends on what you are after. If you want to raise birds in woodland settings and forest gardens and have them focus on pest control, ducks may be the best choice. If you want to clear vegetation, till soil, and have it fertilized, then go with chickens. Ultimately, all animals have their pros and cons, and its up to the designer to approximately match the species to the situation.


Mushrooms Wild & Cultivated

Stropharia rugosa-annulata

Friends and fellow mushroom enthusiasts Steve Gabriel and Ari-Rockland Miller are teaming up to offer two upcoming classes in Vermont to explore the best practices and future potential for both mushroom cultivation as well as wild foraging.

Mushrooms are truly a remarkable organism. A member of the fungal kingdom, they are more closely related to animals then plants; they breathe oxygen and expire CO2, just like us! They are key components in soil and forest health; some provide primary decomposition, breaking the tough bonds in woody materials to make them available for other soil organisms, while others bond in a symbiotic relationship with plants to capture and cycle nutrients and water. Mushrooms have been shown to also be powerful healers, ranging from breaking down hydrocarbons in oil spills (oyster) to inhibiting the growth of cancer cells (shiitake, lions mane).

Nearly all cultivated mushrooms are saprophytic, meaning they decompose woody organic matter and in turn build soil fertility while producing fruiting bodies for reproduction. Saprophytes are the planet’s great recyclers, turning dead plants into nutrients available to living plants and animals. These saprophytes vary in their pickiness around food source – some, like shiitake, favor specific hardwood tree species, while others, like the oyster, are generalist decomposers that will eat just about whatever you put on their plate.

Oysters seem equally happy feasting on sawdust, straw, toilet paper, coffee grounds, or petrochemicals (making them prime candidates for mycoremediation, as demonstrated by mycologist Paul Stamets). Shiitake is easy to cultivate but does not grow wild in this region, while other saprophytes like the king stropharia can be cultivated as well as foraged in North America. In the workshop, participants will learn how to clone native king stropharias to harness the wild and bring it into the garden.

Many of the most gourmet wild mushrooms are mycorrhizal fungi that are extremely difficult to impossible to cultivate. Mycorrhizal mushrooms like the porcini, chanterelle, and matsutake are revered for their flavor and coveted for their wild, unpredictable fruiting habits. These fungi form complex symbiotic relationships with plant roots that benefit both parties. Rather than drive ourselves crazy trying to cultivate such finicky fungi, we will learn how to find and ID them in the wild!

Steve Gabriel has been growing shiitake and other mushrooms for six years. He educates landowners, farmers, and gardeners though his work at Cornell Garden-Based Learning and through the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute. He currently operates a 1,000 log shiitake operation and is co-authoring a book on the practices of Forest Farming.

Ari Rockland-Miller, co-founder of The Mushroom Forager, is an ardent mycophile who enjoys nothing more than the exhilarating feeling of the mushroom hunt. Over the past few years he has found hundreds of pounds of gourmet and medicinal wild mushrooms, and he loves sharing his knowledge with blog readers and workshop participants.  Ari became an expert in shiitake cultivation after managing Cornell University’s Mushroom Research Project and the MacDaniels Nut Grove, Cornell’s forest farming demonstration site.

“Mushrooms Wild & Cultivated” will be held June 2nd at Shelburne Farms (Shelburne, VT) and June 3rd at Twin Pond Retreat (Brookfield, VT) . For $65 students take home an inoculated shiitake log and oyster substrate. Participants should plan on bringing their own lunch.

Shelburne Farms
Shelburne, VT
June 2 from 9:00am - 4:00pm
$65 includes one inoculated mushroom log
TO REGISTER CALL 802-985-8686

Twin Pond Retreat
Brookfield, VT
June 3 from 9:00am - 4:00pm 
$65 includes one inoculated mushroom log
TO REGISTER Email name, email, and phone number to steve@agroforestrysolutions.com or call 607.342.2825


Mushrooms as a byproduct of Forest Health

Sugaring at the Cayuga Nature Center, 2007
My interest in mushrooms didn't stem (pun intended!) from the desire to be a farmer or to have more mushrooms growing around me than I knew what to do with. It came from a sincere interest in looking for incentives to get woodlot owners to manage their woods. Over harvesting for timber is unfortunately ravaging healthy forests who are recovering from centuries of abuse. And many young forests also need thinning to improve the health of the residual stand. It was the combined idea of the landowner making an income (and thus reducing pressure to log the big trees) and the idea that mushrooms could make good use of small diameter wood (as a byproduct of thinning) that led me into the world of mushrooms.

Several years ago I served as Land Use Manager for wonderful place located outside of Ithaca, the Cayuga Nature Center. I was hired to work on land use planning and programming related to good management of fields and forests, including permaculture. One of the traditions we continued was tapping maple trees each spring and hosting Maplefest, a two day festival that promoted sugaring and the history of the practice, from the time of native americans to present day. During my tenure there we tapped about 100 trees and for the first time in the 30 years history of CNC bottled and sold our syrup as a fundraising mechanism.

Where the mushrooms entered was the action we undertook to thin some of the sugarbush (the grove of trees we tapped) to improve the health of the trees we were tapping. This left us with a pile of small diameter wood, which inevitably was headed to the firewood pile, which was plentiful. I had heard of a local man in Hector (Steve Sierigk) who was growing mushrooms on logs, and thought we should give it a try. In 2006 we had our first mushroom class at the nature center, which was also to be the beginning of my career as a mushroom grower and forest farmer, though I didn't know at the time.

Done right, thinning benefits the woods.
The key point in the story is that the mushroom logs were a byproduct, a "surplus" of a necessary activity if we wanted to keep the forest at an optimal health. The logs we cut down, as well as the ones I continue to cut down each winter are all in this category. Often they have some rot, are mangled, and aren't very straight. But were I to select the perfect logs - the straightest, the ones free from disease and defect, I would at the same time be taking out the best genetics - the best trees - in other words, the trees that should be left on the stump to grow old.

As for economics, I did some figures for a presentation I gave at the 2011 NOFA conference that compared the income generated from cutting older trees for timber vs younger trees for mushroom logs.

Let's say I decide to cut a 100 year old White Pine, which might yield 500 board feet. At current prices, log is worth maybe $250 at mill but you have to subtract the expenses for the forester, logger, fuel, etc, which means there might be a one time profit of $75 for that log. That 100 year old tree. Surely there is more value in leaving that tree standing to seed numerous generations of new pines for decades to come. (these figures are based on talking to multiple foresters and loggers)

Compare this to a 25 year old Sugar Maple, which might yield ten three foot mushroom logs. These ten logs over lifetime will yield at least 20 pounds of mushrooms, which can be sold for $240 ($12/lb). The costs of harvesting, transport, inoculation, management equal about $2/log, or $40. This means that over the lifetime of the logs (about 4 years), this ONE and very young tree offers a $200 profit, more than twice the above.

And again, a 25 year old tree is a world away from a 100 year old tree. These young trees, especially sugar maple, are reaching the PERFECT size for mushroom logs at about this age. They often grow in thickets and this is a perfect time to intervene, leave the best, and use the rest for mushroom production.

To me, shiitake production is just the beginning of the potential for agroforestry products to both be better in terms of forest health as well as economic vitality. I'll be offering two classes coming up which will discuss this linkage more and go over forest management practices in addition to the basic inoculation strategies for shiitake, oyster, stropharia, and lions mane:

Little Farm of Paradise, Hampton NY (north of Albany on the VT border)
May 20 from 10:00am - 3:00pm
$80 includes one inoculated mushroom log

Shannon Brook Farm, Watkins Glen, NY
June 10 from 10:00am - 3:00pm
$65 includes one inoculated mushroom log

TO REGISTER, email your name, email, and phone number to steve@agroforestrysolutions.com or call 607.342.2825


Still plenty of mushroom classes coming up!

Join mushroom farmer and extension educator Steve Gabriel for a mushroom class this May or June and learn how you can grow your own edible mushrooms for fun and profit.

Participants will learn several cultivation methods for multiple species (shiitake, lions mane, oyster, and stropharia) that are practical on both a home and small commercial scale and appropriate for all experience levels.

Three Sisters Farm, Sandy Lake, PA: May 12
Rochester Permaculture Center, Rochester NY: May 13
CCE Hamilton County, Piseco, NY: May 19
Little Farm of Paradise, Hampton NY: May 20

Shelburne Farms, Shelburne, VT: June 2
Twin Ponds Retreat, Brookfield, VT: June 3
Shannon Brook Farm, Watkins Glen, NY: June 10

Classes are filling up so contact us to register today.

Steve Gabriel


Here come the duckies...!

When I wrote about receiving grant funding from NE-SARE in Febuary, it was a brief moment of satisfaction before I realized that with opportunity comes responsibility. Research is a heck of a lot of work, and the trial I'll be conducting this season running ducks in my mushroom yard to see if I can reduce slug pressure on the mushroom crop while yielding another foodstuff is requiring a bit more time and energy than if I was simply raising ducks and mushrooms

Though this is an research project, duck happiness is still my #1 goal.
One challenge to any project is its ever-changing nature. Take my choice in duck breeds, for example. In the original grant I wrote, I determined that I'd try out common meat birds, Muscovy's and Pekin. This was based on the rather simple notion that I wanted the breed that gained weight fasted. Yet on further reflection and discussion with my technical advisor, Roger Ort, and his family, I realized that I was looking at the situation too narrowly.

In fact, what I've decided to do is trial FOUR breeds; two traditional meat ducks and two heritage breeds, to determine which duck fits best into the forest system. As a result, 45 furry ducklings arrived in the mail yesterday and we've set about caring for them as best we can. Here's the breakdown:

FLOCK #1: A mix if Muscovy and Rouen, traditional breeds raised for meat (see pic above)

FLOCK #2: A mix of Swedish Blue and Cayuga, heritage breeds raised for meat and eggs

My interested in comparing breeds is what has led to the increase in work, since I'll need to maintain separate flocks, weigh birds, and spend ample time observing behaviors. I'm not complaining at all, just emphasizing the reasons research grants are important. Without the financial support to explore the possibilities most farmers just don't take the risk. They stick to what they know works, which is work enough already!

In my assessment of the breeds, we'll be looking at the following variables to determine which breed will likely serve as the best for year two of the trial, where I'll raise one flock and work to optimize the system and begin a breeding program. (This year the birds are all males, to maintain consistency)

Brooder set up.

a. How well the breed forages.

The central reason for the trial is to examine the role ducks can play as biological control agents in perennial agroforestry systems. So the simple end of it is, which duck keeps the slugs at bay?

b. Pounds of feed for pounds of meat.

Rather than just focusing on the breeds that put on the most pounds, I'm going to look more at the efficiency of converting food to meat. Some of the books I've been reading claim the heritage breeds can forage for almost all of their diet. So while there may be less meat overall on a heritage bird, if that bird is able to get his/her food for "free" from a healthy ecosystem all the better.

c. The breed I most like to work with.

This category remains largely subjective but having raised animals I know the variables in temperament, style, and even entertainment value. I already have a slight bias toward the rarer, heritage breeds of ducks; in a time where our food system has nearly eliminated many animal species it feels important to try and play a role in their restoration.

d. Which breed tastes the best.

Rumor has it that while the meat breeds pack more pounds, the heritage breeds might have more complex and interesting flavors. To test this out we'll conclude the trial this year with a taste test in the Fall, working with local chefs who will prepare each breed in the same fashion and provide our "judges" with samples to see which breeds are most enjoyed.

I hope that readers do not take the language in this post to imply that I am treating these ducks without to utmost care and respect. Folks may disagree on the details about raising animals for meat but I believe it to be a critical element to a sustainable food system and take pride in providing my animals with complete care and access to natural environments. I do not view these wonderful creatures as commodities but as sentient beings that need our respect and admiration. Duck happiness had to always been the number one goal.

and finally, a brief reminder of upcoming mushroom classes:

May 12: Three Sisters Farm: Sandy Lake PA
May 13: Rochester Permaculture Center: Rochester, NY
May 19: Cornell Cooperative Extension Hamilton Co: Piseco, NY
May 20: Little Farm of Paradise: Hampton, NY
June 2: Shelburne Farms, Shelburne NY
June 3: Twin Pond Retreat, Brookfield, VT


May 5th & 6th Class for Growers Canceled

Due to low enrollment, the weekend May 5th and 6th class targeted to those interested in small scale commercial production of shiitake is being canceled. This class may be rescheduled in September of this year but for now consider attending another of our upcoming workshops which are filling up fast.

Our first few classes in the Southern Tier of NY, Western Mass, and the Hudson Valley were a wild success, with mushroom enthusiasts filling space to capacity.

Participants get the basics of shiitake, oyster, lions mane, and stropharia cultivation and get to take home inoculated substrates in all of these classes. Both backyard growers and those intersted in commercial production can have their questions answered.

Upcoming Dates:

May 12 -- Mushrooms in Permaculture Systems: Sandy Lake, PA
May 13 -- Edible Mushrooms for Backyard Growers: Rochester, NY
May 19 -- Inoculation Demonstration: Piseco NY
May 20 -- Mushrooms & Forest Management: Hampton, NY
June 2 -- Mushrooms Wild & Cultivated: Shelburne, VT
June 3 -- Mushrooms Wild & Cultivated: Brookfield, VT
June 10 -- Mushrooms & Forest Management: Watkins Glen, NY

More info: http://agroforestrysolutions.blogspot.com/p/mushroom-classes-northeast-new-york.html


A Beginning Farmers Dream: Shiitake as a Niche Crop

The perfect niche crop?
Beginning farmers young and old have their work cut out for them: while their passion and persistence may be strong, the barriers to getting started can often seem overwhelming and even impossible. These factors may include access to land, start-up funds, and developing a skill set that wasn't taught in school or college. And yet despite these challenges, more and more want in. And its a good thing - with increasing food costs, questions about food safety, and a growing market in local foods, we are going to need all the farmers we can get.

There are a number of wonderful organizations that have emerged specifically to help the beginning farmer. One is located just down the hall from me; the Cornell Small Farms Program, which is a program of cooperative extension, launched the Northeast Beginning Farmer Project site in 2006. NOFA-NY hired a beginning farmer coordinator and offers members a hotline to call in with questions. And in our local area, Groundswell has emerged to support those interested in farming with opportunities to interact and learn from regional farmers. 

Probably the biggest shift for new farms is coming to terms with the reality that farming is hard work, especially when many of us have spend our lives sitting at a desk listening or typing away at a computer. We simply don't have the life experience of hard labor to back up our dreams. The good news is we are built to be active animals, using our bodies to get the job done. While the transition can be a tough one, it seems that everyone who passes this hurdle never regrets it.

Designing a laying yard is key to success.
The other initial shift that needs to occur is patience - too many farm dreamers want it all the first year, or even the first few years of farming. But the reality is that farms take decades and lifetimes to build, and we need to see our work in this context. Inevitably new farmers are dealing with poor soil fertility, low levels of experience, and a lot of upfront cost. Taking time to slowly build a farm within ones means and abilities increases the likelihood of success.

This is where the importance of a niche crop arises. I'm defining a niche crop as four things:

1) OPEN MARKETS: the crop has open local and regional markets and a demand from consumers
2) SCALABLE: the crop can be started small and steadily increased to meet the farmers goals
3) LOW INVESTMENT/HIGH RETURN: the crop has low initial costs and a high market value
4) RESILIENT: the crop can accept a varying and changing environment, and also is forgiving to the farmer's learning curve

Enter Shiitake as perhaps one of the best candidates as a niche crop, at least in the Northeastern US. The markets are more or less wide open, with consumers and chefs eager to get their hands on this tasty and nutritious food. Shiitake can be easily sold at farmers markets, to restaurants, and through CSA models for $11 (wholesale) to $16 (retail) a pound.

Shiitake offers a sound return on investment.
A beginner can start with 100 logs, which yields roughly 10 lbs a week, or $120 to $160 of sales, and add more logs until he/she is satisfied. The cost to inoculate each log is $1.50 - $3.00, which pales in comparison to the $50 - $60 of sales per log that will be gained over it's lifetime. And other than drying out, the crop is forgiving of changing weather conditions, floods and droughts, and even the farmer's desire to take a vacation.

One of my favorite things about being a mushroom grower is that I don't feel like I have to compete to survive. I can both teach backyard growers how to cultivate their own mushrooms while selling them to others who just want to purchase them. I can collaborate with other local growers as the demand is high and none of us will be able to meet it anytime soon. Even if/when more growers enter the market and the price eventually drops, there is still  good profit margin in mushroom growing.

While I'm making Shiitake out to be the wonder crop, I'll return to the key points made above: cultivating mushrooms is relatively HARD work, and you'll perish if you don't enjoy cutting and moving logs on a regular basis. Setting up a laying yard to improve your labor efficiency is key to success. And of course, marketing and branding a product is key to getting customers excited about the product.

We are offering a training on May 5th and 6th for beginning and established farmers looking for detailed information on the particulars of growing shiitake mushrooms on a small scale (200 - 1,000 logs). Included in the class will be:

- Basics of shiitake cultivation & how to do it efficiently
- Designing a laying yard to save time & your back
- Setting up a soaking schedule, harvesting, storing, and drying shiitake
- Marketing to farmers markets, restaurants, and CSAs
- The economics; where are the costs and how can I minimize them?
- Other add-ons: commercial oyster, stropharia, and lion's mane cultivation (experimental)
- Basic forest management and chainsaw safety

In addition to the above topics, participants will get to see two active mushroom yards and talk with experienced growers about the particulars of cultivation.

The class will run from 9am to 4pm on Saturday, May 5 and 9am to 4pm on Sunday, May 6 in Mecklenburg, NY Participants are welcome to camp out on the land or we can recommend local hotels or B&Bs for a more comfortable stay. Cost is $125, which includes several inoculated substrates to take home.

Questions and registration can be directed to steve@agroforestrysolutions.com or 607.342.2825.

Classes are supported by the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute and Northeast Mushroom Growers Network.


Video: Mushrooms in Permaculture Systems

Enjoy this 17 minute video, a rebroadcast of a presentation I recently did at Cornell's "Camp Mushroom" on Friday, April 13th. Upcoming classes at Brook's Bend Farm (4/21 in MA), Three Sisters Farm (5/12 in PA), and at the Rochester Permaculture (May 13 - NY) will delve deeper into this topic as well as teach participants how to inoculate Shiitake, Oyster, Stropharia, and Lion's Mane mushrooms.


Mushrooms in Permaculture Systems

Classes take a look at the bigger, integrated picture

Brook's Bend Farm, MA (April 21)
Three Sisters Farm, PA (May 12)
Rochester Permaculture Center (May 13)

The basis of inspiration for my work as a permaculture forest farmer comes from what I observe and learn in natural ecosystems, and at the heart of what I've learned over the last 10 years is that a) no organism survives or thrives without maintaining a cooperative connection to other species and b) sustainable systems are also multi-kingdom, that is, not just plants but a mixture of players from the plant, animal, fungi, bacteria, etc communities.

One of the more inspiring examples of these ideas came across my radar several years ago in the writing of Chris Maser, who describes the intricate evolution of a complex relationship between the Spotted Owl, Northern Flyer Squirrel, the Douglas Fir, and truffle mushrooms:

"...Keeping the above in mind, let's consider the coniferous forests of the Pacific Northwest in which Douglas-fir and western hemlock predominate in the old-growth canopy. Herein lives the Northern Spotted Owl, which preys on the flying squirrel as a staple of its diet. The flying squirrel, in turn, depends on truffles, which it detects by odor at night and then digs them out of the forest soil.

When flying squirrels eat the truffles, they consume fungal tissue that contains nutrients, water, viable fungal spores, nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and yeast. Pieces of truffle move to the stomach, where the tissue is digested; then on through the small intestine, where absorption takes place, and then to the cecum.

The cecum is like an eddy along a swift stream; it concentrates, mixes, and retains fungal spores, nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and yeast. Undigested material, including cecal contents, is formed into excretory pellets in the lower colon; these pellets, which are expelled through the rectum, contain the viable spores and accompanying micro-organisms necessary to inoculate the root tips of trees."
FULL ARTICLE: http://www.chrismaser.com/truffle.htm

Permaculture is a design system that focuses on the production of food, fibre, and energy while restoring degraded ecosystems. While designs are often focused around plants, it is essential to include animals, fungi, bacteria, and algae as members of five distinct kingdoms, which all have a unique role to play in a healthy ecosystem.

Mushrooms are but one part in this whole systems approach to gardening, farming, and forestry. Our efforts as gardeners, farmers, and land stewards must all be based in the cultivation of healthy soils, which fungi have a unique role in; they are the only organisms that can digest the tough and fibrous lignin in wood, which then makes the material available for other organisms, whether they be bacteria or animal-based.

Three upcoming mushroom classes will be held at  a wide array of permaculture demonstration sites and highlight how mushrooms can integrate into the "big picture." with discussions and content including:

Mycology 101: The basics
Permaculture Principles Applied: Mushrooms as Waste = Food
Mushrooms & Forest Health
Integrated Systems: Shiitake/Duck, Stropharia Polyculture
Stropharia inoculation on woodchips
Oyster inoculation on paper
Shiitake inoculation on log bolts
Lions Mane inoculation on log totems

We'll also look at the specific context of the site (farm vs market garden/bioshelther vs. backyard) and discuss how mushrooms can be integrated to contribute to overall system health. More about these amazing, evolving demonstration sites in MA, PA, and NY:

Brook's Bend Farm
Montague, MA: April 21 from 10:00am - 4:00pm
$80 includes one inoculated log & paper substrate

Brook's Bend is a 90 acre working farm where multiple enterprises share stewardship of the land's resources.   While the farm produces lamb, woolens and forestry products such as cultivated mushrooms and milled lumber, Clearpath Herbals (www.clearpathherbals.com) trains apprentices in cultivating and preparing medicinal herbs in field and forest gardens, Wolf Tree Programs (www.wolftreema.com) runs mentoring programs for children and youth sharing wilderness skills and nature awareness, and a Whole Systems Education and Training Center is establishing plantings and system designs based on permaculture design principles. In 2012, we anticipate the formation of a 501c3 to help us steward the resources of land and community for many more years to come.

Three Sisters Farm
Sandy Lake, PA: May 12
10:00am - 4:00pm
$75 includes one inoculated log & paper substrate

Three Sisters Farm is a five-acre permaculture farm in Mercer County, Pennsylvania. For more than 20 years, the farm has provided produce for markets throughout Western PA, including Pittsburgh. At the heart of the farm’s operations is the bioshelter. This unique structure is part greenhouse, part chicken coop, part hot tub and all permaculture. This bioshelter is a far cry from the plastic-film covered hoop houses heated with coal, oil or gas. With careful design and attention to the operation of the system, the bioshelter stays productive through the coldest of months. The farm offers regular educational opportunities and tours to the public.

Rochester Permaculture Center
Rochester, NY: May 13 from 10:00am - 4:00pm
Sliding Scale $60 -$100 includes one inoculated log & paper substrate

A program of Seeking Common Ground, Inc., RPC is dedicated to exploring, modeling, and inspiring more conscious, sustainable, and restorative ways of life through the application of permaculture and other regenerative design techniques and principles.  Located in a unique setting, RPC is blessed to have Red Creek flowing across the land, giving us many edges - urban/suburban and creek/forest/neighborhood edge.  The overall site is just under an acre, including the homestead.  As RPC is still in its infancy, at just over one year old, the systems are still young and more are being woven in during 2012, providing a good opportunity to see the beginning stages of a permaculture site.

To register for any of these classes, e-mail your name, phone #, and email address to steve@agroforestrysolutions.com. Please note if you prefer payment via credit card or check.


CU Chronicle: Experts suggest grazing cows, sheep, ducks in forests

From: http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/April12/Silvopasture.html

Ithaca area farmer Steve Gabriel of Work With Nature Design, who is an extension aide in Cornell's Department of Horticulture, is experimenting with the practice in a novel way. With a grant from the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, he is pasturing ducks in a mature sugar maple woodlot, which has the added benefit of providing pest control for another of his agroforestry projects, a shiitake mushroom farm.

"Ducks are currently undervalued as a wonderful animal that has potential to both control pests and provide marketable eggs and meat," Gabriel said. "Integrating them into agroforestry practices would likely get more farmers interested in considering producing niche crops like mushrooms."


Are ramps being overharvested?

Following simple rules may not apply when it comes to a springtime favorite

NOTE: This week the post digresses from our usual mushroom fare, but don't forget to check out upcoming classes on mushroom cultivation in NY, PA, MA, and VT and info about our summer mushroom CSA.

From Jennifer May for the New York Times: click for article
Anyone who has come across the Ramp, or Wild Leek, allium tricoccum, likely can't help but feel a sense of abundance; the spring ephemerals (plants that make a brief spring appearance before forest canopies have leafed out) often show up in clusters that can range from a few square feet to a solid quarter acre or more of green. 

For years I've looked forward to harvesting this tasty, tangy, and nutritious plants and felt I could easily harvest a hearty share without inflicting any harm on the population. I used as a guideline the common "2/3 rule", which suggests that in harvesting one should gather no more than 1/3 of a population to ensure a stable community persists.

But what is this guideline based on? As I thought more about it, the concept sounded nice and simple but I knew better, for plants and ecosystems are rarely able to be summarized in such a way. Further, I imagined an inherent problem with applying a blanket rule to wild plants when I know that the dispersal patterns, regeneration, and regrowth characteristics are vastly different from plant to plant. Some, like ramps, appear to be very fragile by nature, while others, like Stinging Nettle (urtica dioica) is persistent to the point where many consider it a nuisance species. (not me - I love to consume them as a management tool)

A practice I've been working at for the past year or so is to follow the tracks of hearsay and try to see if I can find research and evidence to support a given claim. The very nature of agroforestry systems is that they operate on longer timescales, demanding careful thought and planning for all activities, whether we are conducting a timber stand improvement, cultivating mushrooms, or wildcrafting edibles.

Recently with the promotion of my fifth year of mushroom classes and the first year of a mushroom CSA, I've committed myself to backing up any claims with documentation. I wanted to be sure there was good documentation behind my post on all the nutrition in shiitake, and also that the claim that shiitake can accumulate Vitamin D when dried in the sun was validated. Backing up ideas with fact is a simple concept, something I hear a lot of talk about in permaculture circles, at my job at Cornell, and as I discuss sustainability in the community. In practice well-researched material seems to often be an afterthought much of the time, so I figured I would look a bit closer at Ramps in this regard.

I must give credit to Professor Ken Mudge, whom I've been fortunate to work with for many years, for pointing me to some good literature on the subject. The only previous mention I'd seen on the issue of overharvesting Ramps was a New York Times article from last April that mostly asked the question without providing any answers. The first, a 2004 study entitled, "Population recovery of wild leek Allium tricoccum following differential harvesting in the southern Appalachians" cites a startling conclusion after trials harvesting at various intensities over a four year period:

"Harvesting wild leek is not sustainable except at very modest levels. Using the results of this study to predict recovery times, by assuming that growth rates and concomitant recovery times are affected in a consistent manner by levels of harvesting, the sustainable harvest level is predicted to be 10% or less, once every 10 years."

Another research project comes from the British Ecological Society, who published a 5 year study in Quebec that studied a dense population of Ramps in detail. The conclusion was less dramatic but still highlighted that even a small harvest percentage could have a big impact:

"In a particularly unproductive season like 1985 -86, even a 5% harvest is deleterious, and in all other years a decline is predicted when a 15% harvest is stimulated."

Many questions remain. It is not only that one harvest, but HOW they harvest that could make a difference (see this interesting blog post). It might be more sustainable if just the green tops are cut and the bulbs left in the ground. It MIGHT be more sustainable if care is taken to harvest the more mature bulbs and leave the young ones. These details we don't know. What we do know is that a harvest over 10% is likely detrimental, but to be safe one should aim for a maximum of 5% each year for a given population.

This becomes trickier when harvesting from populations on public lands where multiple people may come through hunting for the ramps. It demands that we take more time to observe, catalog, and note the changes in populations from year to year. And, when in doubt, we should err on the side of caution. 

To further reduce stress on wild populations, those interested in ramps should consider cultivation. This factsheet from NC State is a useful guide for getting started.

Agroforestry is an exciting agricultural prospect because we can simultaneously become stewards of healthy forests and enjoy harvests both wild and cultivated. Yet, as with any agricultural practice, care and attention needs to be given to ensure that our forest diversity is protected, and that we can ensure our forests can be enjoyed far into the future. 


Which Mushroom Class is right for me?

Interested in mushroom cultivation on a backyard, hobby, or small commercial scale? Workshops offered this April, May, and June offer participants basic cultivation techniques and connect them to the possibilities of growing in many contexts. This year we are trying to focus our education to address the unique needs of different audiences around the Northreastern US. Read more below to learn about which class may best address your interests.

All classes will teach participants about the basics of growing shiitake, stropharia, and oyster mushrooms. At some we'll also throw in Lions Mane cultivation, which is currently being researched for its potential at Cornell University.

Are you....

Mostly interested in the learning the basics of cultivation?

Try attending on of the mushroom demonstration events. These are three hour classes that cover the very basics of mushroom biology and cultivation of shiitake on logs, oyster on toilet paper rolls, and stropharia on sawdust/woodchips. Plus, you get to inoculate your own log and take it home!

SUNY Ulster, Stone Ridge, NY: April 28 from 1 - 4 pm (almost full!)
Cornell Cooperative Extension Hamilton County, Piseco, NY: May 19 from 1 - 4pm 
Understory Mushroom Farm, Mecklenburg NY: May 5 from 9am  - 12pm

A landowner looking to utilize your woodlot?

These classes focus on the use of mushrooms to promote healthy forests, by both discussing the basics of forest ecology, management, and safe chainsaw use, in addition to the basic cultivation techniques described above.

Little Farm of Paradise, Hampton NY: May 20 from 10am - 3pm
Shannon Brook Farm, Watkins Glen, NY: June 10 from 10am - 3pm

An established or new farmer looking for an exciting niche crop?

Join us for a two day intensive seminar at Understory Mushrooms, a 1 acre mushroom operation on a beautiful 35-acre farm in the Finger Lakes of New York. Camping is available as we learn basic inoculation techniques Saturday morning and delve into laying yard design, harvesting, and marketing Saturday afternoon and into Sunday. In addition to seeing our 1000 log operation, we'll visit our friend Steve Sierigk at Hawk Meadow Farm, who has been growing and selling shiitakes for the past 8 years. We'll also have a mushroom feast pond-side on Saturday evening.

Understory Mushroom Farm, Mecklenburg NY: May 5 & May 6

Interested in both cultivation and wild foraging of mushrooms?

Both of our Vermont classes feature a collaboration with Ari Rockland-Miller of the Mushroom Forager blog. In the morning we'll focus on cultivation and after lunch we'll head to the woods where Ari will discuss strategies for foraging, safe identification, and sustainable harvesting in the wild. Yum!

Shelburne Farms, Shelburne, VT: June 2 from 9:00am - 4:00pm
Twin Pond Retreat, Brookfield, VT: June 3 from 9:00am - 4:00pm 

Curious about the connections between mushrooms and permaculture?

Permaculture is a design system that focuses on the production of food, fibre, and energy while restoring degraded ecosystems. Mushrooms are but one part in this whole systems approach to gardening, farming, and forestry. These classses will be held at permaculture demonstration sites and highlight how mushrooms can integrate into the "big picture."

Brook's Bend Farm, Montague, MA: April 21 from 10:00am - 4:00pm
Three Sisters Farm, Sandy Lake, PA: May 12: May 12 from 10:00am - 4:00pm
Rochester Permaculture Center, Rochester, NY: May 13 from 10:00am - 4:00pm 

For more information on classes and to register, please visit our classes page at www.agroforestrysolutions.com or email steve@agroforestrysolutions.com if you have questions.


Shiitake Accumulates Vitamin D when Exposed to Sunlight

Shiitake mushrooms have been long valued in many cultures for their health benefits, but the exceptional nutrition not only comes with fruiting, but can be "value-added" as well. The most remarkable of these is the ability of shiitake to accumulate Vitamin D when exposed to UV rays, whether synthetic or natural.

One interesting study looked at the use of pulsed UV light to increase vitamin D content in button, crimini, oyster, and shiitake. The results of this study demonstrated that, "after a very short exposure time of about 1 sec (system generates 3 pulses per second) the Vitamin D2 content of these mushroom varieties can be increased from very little to upwards of 800% DV/serving."

Another study mentioned by Aloha Medicinals noted that even in drying shiitake in the sun (a less intense form of UV exposure) for at least 3 hours led to an increase of Vitamin D by up to 5 times the normal amount. This means that through simple exposure we can increase the already impressive pallate of health benefits offed by shiitake.

What's the big deal with Vitamin D? The vitamin is converted in the liver and kidneys and in its active form supports maintaining blood levels of phosphorus and calcium while also promoting bone mineralization and absorption of calcium. It is also linked to supporting a healthy immune system and regulation of cell differentiation and growth.

Deficiency in Vitamin D is linked to rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. Those at risk for deficiency include infants who are exclusively breast fed, seniors, and people with limited sun exposure. Vitmin D deficiency is a very common occurrence among cancer patients

Understory Mushrooms offers dried mushrooms by the ounce and we are also able to accommodate customers who want dried shiitake mushrooms as an option in a CSA share. All of our dried mushrooms will spend at least 3 hours in the sun and are finished in a conventional dehydrator, which means they can be safely stored for months at a time. Mushrooms can be picked up at locations in Trumansburg and Ithaca, NY and also mailed to ANY location in the Northeastern USA.


How many mushroom logs do I need?


Enthusiastic new growers that attend mushroom inoculation classes often want to know how many logs they should be inoculating to get a reasonable yield. Their response is often met with the response familiar to many gardeners and farmers, "it depends." The trick is matching the quantity of logs with the goals for yield and the willingness to  invest time in proper management.

Before we look at the various scales of log-grown shiitake production and some ballpark estimates, its important to know a few basics about mushroom production.

First, logs are inoculated and fruiting can be expected the FOLLOWING season (i.e. if I inoculate logs this May, then the will begin fruiting NEXT May)

Second, if you want decent flushes of mushrooms you'll want to soak your logs by submerging them in cold water for 24 hours.

Third, after soaking a log, the mushrooms will flush 1/4 - 1/2 a pound per log, on average. Sometimes more.

And finally, logs need a rest period of 8 weeks after soaking.

In addition to knowing the process, its key to match your system to your goals. How much time do you want to spend harvesting, inoculating, and managing your logs? If you aren't trained in chainsaw safety, where will logs be acquired from? Are you able to check your logs daily, to harvest mushrooms at peak maturity?

Thus, the answer(s) to the question, "How many logs do I need...." can be answered in many ways:

Backyard system: 30 logs + an old bathtub
....to cook in one meal a week? = 8 logs

This means you soak one log each week and get 1/4 - 1/2 pounds with each flush. That's enough for a decent meal (or two). You could easily stash this number of logs under a porch or a single tree and soak in a trash can or even an old bathtub.

....to feed family & friends? = 32 logs

Soaking 4 logs a week should yield between 1 and 2 pounds per week, which is plenty for eating and dehydrating some for the off-season or to give as gifts. An old kiddie pool would suffice for soaking.

....to make a little side income? = 160 logs

If you soaked 20 logs a week, you could gross between $60 and $160/week. That's a yield of 5 - 10 pounds that you sell for $12/lb wholesale or $16/lb retail. We aren't talking about a huge investment of time here; a well managed system could be maintained in 5 hours or less per week.

....to make it a career? = 10,000 logs

Now we are getting serious! Soaking 1,250 logs a week would yield 300 - 600 lbs of mushrooms, which for $10/lb would gross $60,000 - $120,000 over a 20 week period, June through October. Expenses are considerable - at this scale mechanization and hired hands would be necessary. It's possible to make 40 - 60% of this gross as profit.

Understory Mushrooms is aiming to make its operation one part of a larger farm ecosystem, with our production likely to peak around 3,000 logs. Soaking 375 logs a week is probably about the maximum we can handle with human power.

Our farming plans for the future include other forest grown wood products, mixed rotational grazing of animals, and ongoing education on forest-based agriculture systems.

Learn more details of mushroom inoculation, not only for shiitake but also stropharia, oyster, and lions mane at one of several mushroom inoculation classes offered this spring and summer in New York, Vermont, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.

More information on the classes below can be accessed at www.agroforestrysolutions.com

CCE Steuben County, Bath, NY: March 24
SUNY Ulster County, Kingston, NY: April 28
CCE Hamilton County, Piseco, NY: May 19

Brook's Bend Farm, Montague, MA: April 21
Three Sisters Farm, Sandy Lake, PA: May 12
Rochester Permaculture Center, Rochester NY: May 13

Anderson Farm, Mecklenburg, NY: May 5th & 6th

Little Farm of Paradise, Hampton NY: May 20
Shannon Brook Farm, Watkins Glen, NY: June 10

Shelburne Farms, Shelburne, VT: June 2
Twin Pond Retreat, Brookfield, VT: June 3


Forest Grown Mushrooms a Superfood

Weekly CSA offering the northeast US shiitake mushrooms for health & healing


Many people appreciate the texture and unique taste of mushrooms without really knowing the full extent of their nutritional qualities. In fact, its easy to make the case that shiitake mushrooms are a superfood. Some of these amazing attributes include:

The proteins contained in shiitake are composed of 18 types of amino acids, including 7 of the 8 essential amino acids in a ratio similar to the "ideal protein" for humans. These mushrooms are one of the best sources of protein you can eat, especially for vegetarians/vegans looking to substitute animal proteins in their diet. (Resource)

Multiple studies conducted over the last ten years have demonstrated that an active component in shiitake called eritadenine "significantly decreased the plasma total cholesterol concentration, irrespective of dietary fat sources..." (Resource)

The polysaccharide lentinan, a (1-3) ß-D-glucan, is the compound most associated with cancer prevention properties of shiitake. In addition, lab experiments have shown that many of the trace components in shiitake provide blockages to tumor growth, and researchers have proposed that more than 100 different types of compounds in shiitake mushrooms may work together to accomplish anti-tumor results. (Resource)

The best documented health benefit, shiitake mushrooms are a unique supporter of the immune system. What is most interesting are that a number of studies have demonstrated the ability of shiitake to help prevent excessive immune system activity. At the same time, an equal number of studies have shown the ability of shiitake mushrooms to help stimulate immune system responses under certain circumstances. From a dietary perspective this means that shiitake appear to both give the system a boost when needed, and cut back on activity when beneficial to the body. (Resource)

"Shiitake mushrooms are an excellent source of three B vitamins (vitamins B2, B5 and B6), a very good source of one additional B vitamin (B2); a very good source of six minerals (manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, copper and zinc); a very good source of dietary fiber; and a good source of protein, magnesium, and vitamin D." In addition, fresh shiitake contain over 30 different enzymes. (Resource)

(Links to references for the above can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/AgroforestryResources)

Understory Mushrooms, based out of Mecklenburg, NY is selling weekly CSA shares of log-grown shiitake mushrooms this season, conveniently available alongside vegetable CSA pick up locations in Ithaca and Trumansburg, NY or mailed directly to your door!

Our season begins in late June and runs through early September.

Membership Benefits:
- A share of fresh, log grown mushrooms each week
- Weekly recipe, update from the farm, and mushroom facts
- Two quart mason jars of dried mushrooms for storage at the end of the season    
- Discounts on our spring workshops & other products we sell
- A few mushroom-related surprises along the way!

Choose from three sizes:
SMALL: 1/2 pound for $8/week = $96  (enough for one hearty mushroom meal)
MEDIUM: 1 pound for $12/week = $144 (enough to enjoy in a few meals)
LARGE: 2 pounds for $22/week = $264 (you are in mushroom heaven - ideal for                   vegetarians looking for quality protein)

If you wish to receive shiitake by mail, shipping charges apply.

Mushrooms are also available by pound fresh and by the ounce dried, with ample notice.

See our website for more details. Shares are limited! Sign up today.



Funding Granted for Research on Integrated Mushroom/Duck Agroforestry System

As mentioned in a post made last December, Work With Nature LLC applied for funding through Northeast SARE to support researching the feasibility of integrating meat duck production with cultivation of forest-grown shiitakes. We are please to announce we’ve been granted the funds to proceed with our research! Our rationale behind the need for this research was as follows:

(excerpt from grant)

“Log grown shiitake mushrooms are a growing interest of many Northeast Farmers. Barriers to entry include the labor-intensive nature of the process, frequent slug problems, and that laying yards are situated in woodland areas, often far from normal farm routines.

Integration of meat ducks into the laying yard brings more yields for the farmer on a single trip, promotes effective slug control, and better utilized forest ecosystems in the farm landscape. Ducks are an under appreciated farm asset with the potential to sustainably manage pests while providing high quality products for market. Little research has been done to demonstrate the potential for integrated duck farming in the Northeast.”

Our request for funding following on the heels of a wildly successful grant effort, “Cultivation of shiitake mushrooms as an agroforestry crop for New England,” a joint venture of the University of Vermont and Cornell University, which was funded in 2012. This project has thus far educated over 296 beginning and veteran farmers in 10 states and currently has 20 selected growers who are establishing and collecting data on log-grown shiitake cultivation around the Northeast. The response to this outreach effort has far exceeded the targets set in the grant.
download PDF

Project organizers recently released a beautiful guide for shiitake cultivation, which can be downloaded at the Northeast SARE website.

Our concept is based on the permaculture principle of stacking in time and space, as the annual yields of mushrooms and duck meat are stacked in time with the long-term yield of maple syrup and/or timber from a well-managed forest. By stacking complementary crops in one space, farmers can do work more efficiently and yield larger and more diverse products on less acreage.

Research will be conducted on a roughly 1-acre forested area that currently hosts the mushroom yard. This is a previously unmanaged forest with sugar maple dominating the overstory. Our operation currently has around 700 logs, and an additional 500 will be added in 2012 and 500 in 2013.

This trial will be conducted over two mushroom growing seasons (runs April through October), with the first season focusing on breed selection (2012), and the second season on system optimization (2013).
Design of laying yard
In 2012, we plan to set up three separate areas: two will trial different duck species, and one will serve as a control. Each plot will be about a quarter of an acre (see figure 3). Each area will have approximately 200 - 250 logs, which will be managed in 8 groups of about 20 logs per group.(Mushroom logs need 8 weeks of rest between soakings.)

Each week, we will soak a group from each of the three trial areas on the same day. After soaking we will conduct a slug count of soaked logs every day until all mushrooms have been harvested (usually 5 – 7 days aftersoaking). We will also weigh and grade mushrooms harvested each day, and photographing any noted damage to caps.

In each of the duck runs we will evaluate 20 Peking and Muscovy ducks. These are breeds selected for their good meat production, general tendency to forage, and low maintenance needs. We are keeping the breeds separate because duck breeds, and Muscovy’s in particular, tend to be aggressive toward other breeds. At the end of the season we hope to have good evidence to favor one breed over the other, whether it is because of temperament, foraging ability, weight gain, or a combination of factors.

If you are interested in keeping up with our progress on this project, we encourage you to “like” us on facebook, follow us on twitter, or simply sign up at right to receive e-mail updates.  

Our thanks to Northeast SARE, the technical support of Ken Mudge and Roger Ort from Cornell, and for members of the Northeast Mushroom Growers Network for providing feedback during our initial survey.
Inquiries can be directed to steve@agroforestrysolutions.com.