Climate change poses significant threats to farming in the Southwest. Changes in climate such as scarcity of water, longer periods of drought, and warmer temperatures leave farmers wondering how they will adapt to the changing conditions. Mushrooms are a climate-resilient crop as they have low ecological footprints and don’t require much time, space, or resources to grow. They are nutritious in the kitchen and have numerous beneficial uses. Mushroom farming in New Mexico is emerging, and these farmers play an important role in leading methods of sustainable farming.
The first time I read about the sustainability of mushrooms, I was pleasantly surprised to hear about their low-carbon footprint. Firstly, they have an amazing capacity to decompose and recycle organic material. Any waste in the agricultural sector can be turned into compost for growing mushrooms, making them one of the lowest-carbon footprint farms. According to one article, “In the United States on average, 35% of home waste and 60% of business waste is suitable for use as a mushroom growing substrate.” This includes any organic material lying around our spaces such as toilet paper, newspaper, egg cartons, magazines, coffee grounds, tea bags, and even cotton clothing!
Secondly, mushrooms use little water compared to other crops. For instance, one pound of fresh produce may take up to 50 gallons of water to grow, whereas one pound of “button” mushrooms takes two gallons of water to grow. Mushroom farmers have become incredibly efficient with their use of water, which is why mushrooms are one of the most drought-friendly crops.
Thirdly, mushrooms are one of the crops with the lowest energy consumption. Growing one pound of button mushrooms takes 1.0-kilowatt-hour (Kwh) of electricity. This is equivalent to running your coffeemaker for one hour each day. On the same note, producing that one pound of mushrooms generates 0.7 pounds of CO2 equivalent. Compare that number to the 20 pounds of CO2 that it takes to produce one gallon of fuel. Mushrooms have extremely low energy consumption and carbon emissions compared to most other things.
Lastly, mushrooms can be grown year-round and don’t require much land to grow. On average, one square foot of space in a mushroom bed can produce 6.55 pounds of mushrooms. That is equivalent to 4.5 red bricks on a patio. That is an incredibly small amount of space to grow so many mushrooms! Even more impressively, one acre of land can grow one million pounds of mushrooms. In 2017-2018, mushroom growers sold 917 million pounds of Agaricus mushrooms- which is equivalent to 4,700 football stadiums. 917 million pounds of mushrooms is enough to circle the circumference of the planet mushroom cap to mushroom cap 19 times!
Mushroom farming is an accessible form of farming- anyone can grow mushrooms from their home! For beginners, mushroom growing kits are recommended. A few local growers including Matt’s Mushroom Farm and NM Fungi sell growing kits. NM Fungi also offers a Medicinal Mushroom Grow Course. Nutritionally, they are low in calories in fat and provide a modest amount of fiber and nutrients. Interestingly, they contain non-nutritive plant substances in which cell and animal studies have shown antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer effects.
Some of our local mushroom growers include Matt’s Mushroom Farm, NM Fungi, and Full Circle Mushrooms, Southwest Mushrooms among more! Estevan Hernandez, owner of NM Fungi explains how mushrooms play a role in sustainability and climate change:
“As a meat alternative, Mushrooms offer significantly reduced net water usage. Combining this with the fact that most Gourmet Mushroom Farms (such as ours) are extremely energy efficient and maintain a low carbon footprint, we believe that our industry is actively reducing the production of greenhouse gases. What’s more, we expect to witness and participate in nationwide Mycoremediation projects with goals including: converting plastics into bioavailable nutrients with plastic-consuming fungi, improving yields of organic crop production by introducing mycelium into farm soils, and even replacing petroleum products in a variety of applications with organic mycelial materials.”NM Fungi
Mushrooms are a fascinating species and provide innovative solutions to challenges we face in climate change. They have low carbon footprints, can be home-grown, have health benefits, are used in sustainability-oriented projects such as mycoremediation, and are being studied as bio-material to replace hazardous waste. As climate change increasingly affects farming practices in the Southwest, mushroom farming is one of the most viable and sustainable forms of farming!
-Posted by Isa