If you're interested in starting a business on the side but lack financing, a mushroom business may be the perfect fit because the startup expenses for a mushroom farm are minimal. Also, if you start on a small scale, you can do it as a part-time job.
Learn How to Grow Mushrooms
Before getting started, educate yourself about how to grow mushrooms. Many companies offer courses and seminars on growing these fungi. For instance, Fungi for the People offers a week-long course every few months in Westfir, Oregon. Camping and lodging options are available. If you don't have the time or funds to take a course, many books about growing mushrooms are readily available. And keep in mind that oyster mushrooms are the easiest to grow, so start with a crop of oysters.
Find a Space
First, you'll need to find a growing space for your mushrooms, and it need not be huge. Five hundred square feet is big enough to grow about 12,000 pounds of mushrooms a year. You'll need a space where you can control the temperature, humidity and light. You may already have such a space in your home that meets these requirements. If you do, but you're not sure about controlling the conditions, consider purchasing a space heater, a humidifier and a dehumidifier.
The other upfront costs for a mushroom business are the growing medium and the spores. Cleanliness is one of the keys to having a successful mushroom growing business because many things can potentially contaminate the crop. Use pasteurized straw as your growing medium. Next, buy the spores. You can purchase 100 plugs of various mushroom spores for about $20.00
Because the costs are quite low for starting this type of business, it shouldn't be too difficult to raise startup money. Consider taking out a small loan, either from a bank, credit union or online lender. You could also create a crowdfunding site where you offer customers a certain amount of mushrooms regularly for $100 investment or something similar. Consider borrowing money from family, if that's an option. Or, if you own a home with equity, you could take out a small home equity loan to fund the new business.
Selling the Mushrooms
Growing oyster mushrooms takes just about six weeks from beginning to harvest time. Sell them as quickly as you can after harvest so they are at their freshest. Secure a booth at your local farmers market and sell them there or sell directly to local restaurants or grocery stores. Oyster mushrooms sell for between $6 to $8 a pound wholesale. So if your 500-foot space produces 12,000 pounds of mushrooms, and you're able to sell them at $6 a pound, you could gross $72,000 in a year’s time.
Heather Skyler is a business journalist and editor who has written for wide variety of publications, including Newsweek.com, The New York Times and Delta's SKY magazine. She has a bachelor's degree in English from Miami University and a master's degree in writing from the University of Washington in Seattle. Before writing for a variety of publications, she taught business writing in Seattle.