Evolving Labor Trends Turn Mushroom Farming into Viable and Profitable Option​

Chestnut mushrooms in a fruiting chamber

Evolving Labor Trends Turn Mushroom Farming into Viable & Profitable Option

Chestnut mushrooms in a fruiting chamber

Nearly everyone has heard about recent workplace trends said to have arisen from the pandemic, like “quiet quitting,” when in fact people have been re-assessing their priorities and career choices for years in an effort to strike a more equitable work-life balance.

 

There’s generally more awareness about workers leaving their jobs in pursuit of something more fulfilling. Finding a passion and turning it into a lucrative source of income is the goal, and turnkey solutions like container-based mushroom farming are receiving more recognition and acceptance as a low-overhead avenue to success.

 

Starting a career in farming might sound daunting, but a Denver-area company called FarmBox Foods makes it accessible, even for those with no prior experience in agriculture. FarmBox Foods manufactures high-yield Gourmet Mushroom Farms inside insulated shipping containers, allowing people to grow popular varieties of mushrooms year-round and create multiple revenue streams in the process. The privately owned company also trains you how to do it.

 

It’s a viable solution for those who don’t have millions of dollars to invest in a new business venture. There’s no need to buy farmland (the containers have a footprint of 320 square-feet) and all of the necessary equipment for start-to-finish mushroom cultivation is included. And customers can even finance the container farms, which generate more than $1.2 million in profits over their projected 10-year lifespan.

 

The farms open up opportunities for sustainable food production in places that currently lack access to fresh food, including islands. More than 90 percent of food consumed on islands is imported, which increases costs, reduces quality and results in food miles that impact the environment.

 

“It’s something that people can really pour their heart and soul into,” said Rusty Walker, CEO of FarmBox Foods. “It’s not just a new career. It allows you to live and work where you want to and get a good return on your investment while doing something that gives back to the community.”

 

The controlled-climate mushroom farms use a digital control panel and a network of sensors to monitor and automatically adjust conditions inside the farm for optimal growing. The farms can grow nearly 20 varieties of mushrooms, including lion’s mane, oysters, king trumpets and reishi, and yield around 400 pounds of mushrooms per week.

 

To learn more about purchasing or leasing a Gourmet Mushroom Farm, or to schedule an in-person or virtual tour, visit farmboxfoods.com/gourmet-mushroom-farm/.

FarmBox Foods launches indoor farm that grows livestock feed

Trays of hydroponic fodder growing in an indoor farm.

FarmBox Foods Launches Indoor Farm That Grows Livestock Feed

Trays of hydroponic fodder growing in an indoor farm.

FarmBox Foods LLC is excited to announce the official launch of its Hydroponic Fodder Farm.

The company hosted a public open house on Sept. 27 at our home base in Sedalia, CO. Guided tours of the new indoor farm — the third product line offered by FarmBox Foods — were provided. Attendees also received a tour of the company’s other tech-assisted, containerized farms: the Vertical Hydroponic Farm and Gourmet Mushroom Farm.

What exactly is fodder? It’s a nutrient-dense hay that’s used as a dietary supplement for horses, cows, pigs, goats, chickens, sheep, rabbits and alpacas.

(Want to learn more about FarmBox Foods? Watch our July appearance on ABC News here)

By growing fodder on site year-round, farmers and ranchers can avoid supply chain disruptions, sourcing issues and spikes in hay prices. The controlled-climate farms provide a reliable, hyperlocal source of fresh food while shielding the barley fodder from weather and climate impacts, including drought, heat waves, freezes and floods. The farms are housed inside upcycled, insulated shipping containers outfitted with plumbing, electrical and sensors to control conditions inside. The 320 square-foot farms also capture, filter and recycle water for maximum water efficiency. 

Protein-rich fodder improves the overall health of livestock, supplements hydration and adds weight to beef cattle. It also promotes the production of better-quality milk for dairy cows and goats, improves fertility rates, reduces the likelihood of illness, and decreases methane output because of its superior digestibility compared to traditional alfalfa hay.

Because barley fodder requires only a 7-day growth cycle, a staggered schedule allows farmers and ranchers to harvest around 880 pounds of fodder per day.

FarmBox Foods CEO Rusty Walker Among ‘Who’s Who in Ag’ in Colorado

Rusty Walker - FarmBox Foods

We’re incredibly proud to announce that our CEO, Rusty Walker, is among the honorees for the Who’s Who in Agriculture awards for 2022. The annual award from the Denver Business Journal and Colorado Farm Bureau recognizes an industry leader’s accomplishments in helping to put food on our plates and generate nearly $50 billion in collective economic activity each year.

Rusty Walker, center, with two of FarmBox Foods’ founders, Tony English, left, and Jake Savageau.

Rusty is featured in the April 1 edition of the Denver Business Journal and was honored during a ceremony on March 31 at Kevin Taylor’s at the Opera House in Denver, alongside other deserving recipients.

Probably the coolest thing about this recognition is that two separate organizations decided to nominate Rusty unprompted. His influence and leadership are a big part of our success story, and we’re glad that people outside of the company see that.

 

Read more about Rusty Walker here

Proudest accomplishment of the past year?

Helping to feed people in areas of need, because no one should go hungry. I’m also proud of helping build a team at FarmBox that truly believes in our mission of empowering communities to grow their own food.

What impact has the pandemic had on your area of focus? 

Sourcing of materials has become more challenging, but the supply chain disruption has thrust local farming into the spotlight in a good way. Hyperlocal farming provides a secure source of food near the consumer without concern for delays related to supply chain issues. The disruption has brought to everyone’s attention how important having decentralized food production is. This disruption provides a unique opportunity for us to focus on a product that can have a meaningful impact. Our farms have come about at an opportune time to bring attention to just how vulnerable we were as a society.

What would you say is the biggest challenge Colorado’s agricultural industry faces today?

Drought conditions would have to be up there. It’s become so much harder for farms to thrive because of weather and climate impacts. Water shortages are a real thing, and we have something that can be part of the solution. Colorado is in a precarious position for a number of reasons and our farms enable people to conserve this important resource. We can help farmers who are struggling with uncertainty and provide a reliable, secure source of nutritious food.

What could the state of Colorado do better to fix it?

Incentivize alternative methods of farming that decrease risk of crop loss, reduce water usage, and have less impact on the environment. We have been embraced by the farming community because we provide a lifeline that enables farmers and ranchers to grow food year-round, and especially during times in which weather negatively affects crop yields. What we’re up against is out of our control, but we provide the ability to focus on things that are in our control.

What’s one thing you wish Coloradans understood about your job that most don’t?

Even though we’re a for-profit company, we’re very much a mission-driven organization. That means people and their right to food security doesn’t get lost in the decision-making process. We’re very intentional about how we have grown, and how we operate, and that’s been key to our success. There are few industries that controlled-environment agriculture doesn’t fit into, and so it’s figuring out where we can have the most impact.

When I was asked to be CEO, it was a blessing. It was taking on the responsibility of carrying on that blessing and all of its challenges, and we have a purpose-driven mission that’s not taken lightly. Anytime you have an opportunity to carry out a purpose like this, you have to know that this is much bigger than myself or this company, because we have something that can have a huge effect on the world. The importance of that is not lost on me or the FarmBox team.

What trends are you watching in your field in 2022? 

We try to take a broad look at trends related to how impactful our farms are in the communities that our farms serve. It’s measuring the impact of our farms in communities where they’re placed, and how that affects those communities, coordinating with local organizations, including 501c3s, in getting these farms where they need to go.

What advice do you have for young professionals in your field?

Continue exploring ways to do more with less by using science and tech to solve concrete problems facing the world. Continued improvement is part of our culture, and I find that’s the best way to go about your professional and personal life. I also think you should never go it alone. You should work on being a team player and surround yourself with people who want to achieve a goal together, and go at it in a selfless way.

What do you do in your free time?

I love to spend time with my family, read, exercise, golf and just enjoy life in Colorado.

Drought, flood impacts create uncertainty for food producers

farmbox foods - drought

Drought, flood impacts create uncertainty for food producers

farmbox foods - drought

An alarming pattern has emerged in the farming industry over the last two decades, and experts believe the impact on food production won’t relent anytime soon.

A recent analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that payouts to U.S. farmers for crops destroyed by droughts and flooding climbed by more than 340% between 1995 and 2020. During that time period, farmers received over $143.5 billion in federal crop insurance payments, according to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit that analyzes research data and spotlights breakthrough findings to inform decisions that govern everyday life. 

While the conditions threaten the current livelihoods of farmers across the country, there are also intangible, permanent effects that can’t be ignored, such as the exodus of families who have been farming for decades and, in some cases, centuries. They’re simply giving up due to variables that are beyond their control. 

The EWG points out that while crop insurance provides a crucial safety net for farmers, the program is doing little to mitigate climate-related risks. Taxpayers pick up about 60% of premiums, which means farmers cover the other 40% to get a crop insurance policy. EWG says the “costs are expected to go up even more, as climate change causes even more unpredictable weather conditions,” according to an article on CommonDreams.org.  

This inevitability has decision-makers at the federal and state level considering drastic alternative measures, especially ones that help farmers adapt to changing conditions, enabling them to produce crops regularly without external factors.

One of those solutions is farming in controlled environments that eliminate outside impacts and promise reliable yields. Shipping containers are being repurposed and outfitted with a network of sensors and high-tech systems that regulate temperature, humidity, nutrient concentrations, watering and lighting. They enable farmers to grow food year-round — regardless of weather or climate — and drastically reduce the amount of water needed to grow crops, because the water is recycled and filtered and not lost to evaporation or transpiration.

“We see ourselves not as a replacement for traditional farming, but rather a tool that allows farmers to have that steady source of income throughout the year, without the stress,” said Rusty Walker, CEO of a Colorado-based company called FarmBox Foods, which designs, manufactures and sells enclosed hydroponic farms.

The containerized farms are also a critical element for crop production on islands, which currently import the vast majority of their food. The automated farms essentially add acreage to an island for the purpose of food production, cutting out potential supply chain issues and shipping costs that inflate food prices.

As Congress develops a new farm bill in 2023, the EWG is calling on lawmakers to consider focusing on “how to effectively fund farm programs so that farmers can adapt to and fight the climate crisis.”

C Lazy U Ranch Will Grow Produce for Guests with Container Farm

C Lazy U Ranch

C Lazy U RanchA historic dude ranch in the mountains of Colorado is using a high-tech container farm to broaden its focus on farm-to-table options for guests.

Having been in business for 102 years, C Lazy U Ranch in Granby has a storied reputation as a luxurious, year-round mountain getaway with 8,500 acres of land for a multitude of activities. The ranch’s culinary program is also well known for its ability to craft the perfect meal, and some of the fresh leafy greens that come with those meals will soon be grown on site in an automated Vertical Hydroponic Farm built by Colorado-based FarmBox Foods.

“We saw an opportunity with FarmBox Foods to essentially have a year-round farm-to-table option,” said Paul Klees, assistant general manager of C Lazy U Ranch.

Guests and members will have the opportunity to tour the futuristic, controlled-climate farm — based inside a repurposed shipping container — and see where the food they’re eating is grown. C Lazy U Ranch is planning to grow lettuce and culinary herbs inside the 320-square-foot farm, where the entire growing process, from seed to harvest, takes place. The sensor-based technology and insulation in the container farm are superior to greenhouses, which are susceptible to the bitter cold of the Colorado Rockies, Klees said.

Purchasing a Vertical Hydroponic Farm is “just another step in the ranch’s continuing effort to create authentic farm-to-table dining,” Klees said.

“There are economic aspects to it because we’re shipping in all of the food, including produce,” he said. “When guests eat at our restaurants, we want the meals to resonate with them, and what people are looking for is healthy, organic, fresh produce.”

The 200 horses on the property already benefit from C Lazy U’s sustainable approach to food sourcing; most of the hay they eat is grown on the ranch. C Lazy U is also supplied with water by its own spring and operates its own wastewater facilities.

The exterior of the container farm will be finished with a rustic scheme so it will easily blend in with its natural surroundings, which include a creek and historic structures.

C Lazy U began tending beehives last year, and Klees described the move as a “huge win” because both tours and ranch honey have become popular among visitors. The container farm is slated to be the next hands-on attraction at the ranch, where guests and members could have the opportunity to harvest their own veggies and prepare meals with a chef.

“It’s interactive, it’s educational, and it builds into our vision and mission statement of having a sustainable model,” Klees said.

Using Blackhawk Equipment for prefabrication, RK Mission Critical for manufacturing and assembly, and Absolute Logistics for transport, the container farm is scheduled for delivery in mid-August.

Natural Grocers Growing Its GardenBox Program

GardenBox manager harvesting lettuce

Lakewood, Colo.Michael Boardman knows it takes exactly 82 steps to get from the GardenBox to the produce display at Natural Grocers’ store in Green Mountain – Lakewood.

Boardman manages the first of what could eventually be more Natural Grocers GardenBoxes, a shipping container-based farm that grows several organic lettuce varieties right behind the store it supplies. That means instead of spending about 10 days going from a farm to a distribution center to a truck to a display case — losing about half of its nutritional value and shelf life in the process — the fresh greens go immediately from the container farm to the aisle.

That’s how Boardman knows it takes precisely 82 steps to walk to what ends up being a vibrant, colorful produce display: he’s done it a few times.

The use of a GardenBox could be a sign of what’s to come. More retailers (and consumers, for that matter) that specialize in healthy living are learning that produce doesn’t need to be shipped in from elsewhere. Natural Grocers is taking its pilot program to the next level, with the help of Colorado-based FarmBox Foods, an innovative company that designs, builds and sells the automated, controlled-climate container farms.

Boardman is creating the GardenBox playbook from scratch. He spent weeks developing a nutrient blend that allows Natural Grocers leafy greens to maintain their certified organic status, while enabling the produce to thrive in a hydroponic farm. So far, the company has tried 8 types of lettuce with great success.

To help promote the idea of produce growing outside the store where it’s sold, Natural Grocers gave away about 1,000 heads of lettuce in late June. The produce is now being sold at the Green Mountain – Lakewood location.

“People have loved it. They have been really impressed with it. It’s definitely a much better tasting green, and it’s fresher,” he said.

Boardman, who has spent 8 years with Natural Grocers and also has a background as a produce buyer, said there are “very few products on the market that are living,” pointing out that shoppers who buy heads of lettuce grown in a GardenBox can actually keep them alive in water until they’re eaten.

From alkindus, brentwood to hampton lettuce and mirlo lettuce, there’s plenty to be excited about. Boardman, who particularly enjoys the incredibly flavorful Marciano red butterhead lettuce grown in the GardenBox, says his favorite aspect of the process has been learning what works best to get the plants to thrive.

“Figuring out the solution to it, how to do this organically and sustainably, and watching this grow and be successful has been the best part,” he said.

The Vertical Hydroponic Farm used to grow the produce can simultaneously hold about 11,000 plants in various stages of growth, including about 7,000 seedlings. The plants go from seed to harvest all within the 320-square-foot space in the GardenBox purchased from FarmBox Foods. It’s a game-changer for helping decentralize the food supply chain and empowering individual communities.

To learn more, go to www.naturalgrocers.com/gardenbox. For more information about FarmBox Foods, visit www.farmboxfoods.com.