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A 2017 study measuring the water, energy and carbon emissions required to grow and harvest fresh mushrooms in the U.S. found that a pound of mushrooms requires only 1.8 gallons of water and 1 kilowatt hour of energy and generates only 0.7 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, according to the Mushroom Council.
The annual average yield of mushrooms is 7.1 pounds per square foot — meaning up to 1 million pounds of mushrooms can be produced on just 1 acre, the council says.
“When it comes to the environment, the mushroom industry has a great story to tell,” said Kevin Delaney, vice president of sales and marketing for To-Jo Mushrooms, Avondale, Pa.
Most of the raw inputs that are used to grow mushrooms are byproducts or waste from other agricultural crops, he said.
“In a way, mushrooms have always naturally been produced in a sustainable manner,” Delaney said.
Growing sustainably actually can save a company money, he said.
“In general, the less inputs you put into your product or process, the more you should save,” he said.
Phillips Mushroom Farms, Kennett Square, Pa., has a sustainability committee that looks for continuous opportunities to improve all areas, said Sean Steller, director of business development.
For example, the company has improved the efficiency of its harvesting lights to reduce electricity use, increased the amount of recycling done on campus and removed single-use plastic water bottles from campus.
Sustainability efforts are worth the expenditure, Steller said.
“Many sustainability efforts include a large upfront cost, but the long-term effects can definitely pay dividends for the planet as well as our budget,” he said.
Highline Mushrooms, Leamington, Ontario, is always striving to find new and innovative packaging, said Jane Rhyno, vice president, sales and marketing.
“Most of our current packaging is made from recycled material and then in turn is again recyclable,” she said.
“It’s important to us that our consumers know that we are not putting new plastics into the waste stream.”
Kennett Square-based South Mill Champs is committed to a fully recyclable growing cycle, said Michael Richmond, vice president of sales.
That includes baling its own straw in the field, composting and growing in the same vertically integrated system, and then returning the spent mushroom compost back onto the farm land of its agriculture community, he said.
“Sustainability is the right way to do business,” Richmond said.
“Ultimately, long term, it will be the most cost-effective way to do business despite the upfront costs that are associated today.”
“Our mantra for our business is ‘Mushroom Creations, Responsibly Grown’ as we explore new channels to deliver the great benefits of mushrooms to the consumer in a sustainable way,” he said.
South Mill Champs aspires to deliver the sustainably grown experience for consumers in all of its fresh, frozen and functional products, he said.