Imagine being able to sustainably produce a nutritious and delicious food product that is not constrained by specific environmental conditions required to support a predominately plant-based agricultural industry.

Kennesaw State University researcher Christopher Cornelison is exploring the possibilities of improving the food supply chain by leveraging innovative technology to expand the opportunities for mushroom production in Georgia.

Although sales of these spore-bearing fruiting bodies of fungi accounted for more than $3.1 billion in U.S. economic impact according to a 2019 American Mushroom Institute report, they are still underutilized.

Cornelison said more than half of the nation’s mushroom production is associated with a single county in Pennsylvania. The substrate used in this production, primarily mulch, is transported from the Midwest to meet the demand.

That is why Cornelison is now focused on determining the feasibility of growing culinary and commodity mushrooms in Georgia via low-cost and efficient production systems housed in modified shipping containers with embedded environmental control systems.

With a new $25,000 award from the venture development program of the Georgia Research Alliance, Cornelison’s goal is to study the potential commercialization of growing these mushrooms on media or substrates of regional agricultural wastes such as peanut shells, corn chaff or spent brewing grains.

This GRA program is the state’s only nonprofit catalyst for providing universities seed funds and access to mentors and consultants in forming companies around their research.

The team, led by Cornelison, is made up of co-investigator Kyle Gabriel, a research scientist in the BioInnovation Laboratory, and Daniel Rhiner, a master’s student in KSU’s integrative biology program. Kent Wolfe, a market analyst in the University of Georgia’s Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, is responsible for the market and financial analyses.

With this GRA grant, KSU was also one of just two institutions to be invited to participate in the inaugural cohort of the Greater Yield initiative, recently launched by Lee Herron, GRA’s vice president of venture development. The Greater Yield initiative’s primary objective is to support university start-up companies focused on agricultural and food technology.

In preparation for this phase of the project, Cornelison and Gabriel spent the last three years planning and building the experimental cultivation chamber within a shipping container. The work was supported by a Specialty Crop Block Grant from the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

The low-cost, small-footprint prototype of a semi-automated mushroom production facility, currently located at the KSU Field Station, can easily be set up anywhere, even in densely populated cities. Gabriel designed the embedded environmental control system with software, called Mycodo, which he developed and continuously updates as an open source online application.

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