CALS Grows Gourmet Mushrooms That Recycle Waste

Petal-like pink oyster mushrooms can be grown with a simple straw substrate. (Photo by Zhongguo Xiong)
Petal-like pink oyster mushrooms can be grown with a simple straw substrate. (Photo by Zhongguo Xiong)

The University of Arizona class is called "Mushrooms, Molds and Man." Intrigued, undergraduate Lauren Jackson decided to learn about "Kingdom Fungi" and its impact on the world.

He was hooked in a heartbeat. Barely into the course, "I just raised my hand and asked about research opportunities." That week he started working in the lab with UA mycologist Barry Pryor.

Today, Pryor and Jackson are growing delicious, nutritious gourmet mushrooms – while turning coffee grounds, used brewery grains, straw, newspapers, pizza boxes and other woody landscape waste into compost. "Fungi are the great decomposers of the Earth. Without them, fallen trees would be stacked up in the forest. Without them, we would not have this regeneration of soil," Jackson said.

The UA's novel mushroom-based recycling program is "working with nature rather than against it," testing how well the mushrooms break down various materials. The next step is to grow the mushrooms on a larger scale, outside the plant sciences lab. At that point, the gourmet mushrooms could turn into an Earth-friendly cash crop.

Pryor and Jackson recently built a mushroom shed at Tucson Village Farms, a project of the UA Cooperative Extension located at the Campus Agricultural Center. They started with growing oyster mushrooms on straw "because they're one of the simplest to grow, not as sensitive to variable environmental conditions as some," said Pryor, an associate professor of plant sciences in the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

As a commodity, gourmet mushrooms are in high demand. People pay top dollar for this tasty delicacy, which is relatively easy to cultivate. Their research shows "mushrooms are incredibly versatile in the kinds of substrate they can grow on," according to Pryor. Depending on the species, a fresh crop of mushrooms can mature in six to eight weeks.

"We're very optimistic. We know how to grow mushrooms. We started with pink oyster mushrooms and expanded to blue oyster, king oyster, and lion's mane. We've not ventured into shitake yet – but we will." The mushroom team also includes research assistant Parker Evans. The group is working with the UA Controlled Environment Agriculture Center to investigate how to scale up production to be commercially viable.

They recently received a grant from the UA Green Fund, which supports projects that make the campus more environmentally sustainable, and they are working with the UA Compost Cats, which collects coffee grounds from campus locations and Starbucks.

Read the rest of this June 13, 2013 UANews article at the link below.

Date released: 
Jun 19 2013
Contact: 
Barry Pryor