Growing Mushrooms with Geothermal Energy

Operator Name: Charles Southard
Production: Mushrooms, Vegetables
Location: Stokesdale, Rockingham County, NC
Charles Southard is a part time farmer in Rockingham County. He grows specialty crops, particularly in selling portobella mushrooms. The mushroom marketing is going quite well and he generally sells out at the farmer’s markets where he sells his produce. Southard grew up on the same land cultivating tobacco and milking dairy cows with his family. He left the farm in 1984 to pursue a career in food service management. His father left him a parcel of the family land and he moved back onto it with his wife and family and begin cultivating vegetables for local markets in 2005. He hopes someday that he can also give his grandchildren a place to grow up and give them a way to earn their education just like tobacco farming had done for him.

Southard’s has great success selling portobella mushrooms to local consumers but he can only grow them for the earlier part of the Spring season. The area where he is growing the mushrooms is an old tobacco sorting room in a basement and it gets too warm later on in the season to produce any mushrooms. Charles applied for a TCRF grant with RAFI-USA to install a geothermal climate control system that would allow him to produce mushrooms year round, making it possible to meet demand and make more of an income during the slower off-season months for vegetables and other crops. He has found a variety of warm season portobella variety called Almond that he believes would work best with the climate in Rockingham County.

The geothermal system would allow Charles to heat and cool the space using a renewable energy, working towards his plan for being totally energy self-sufficient by the year 2015 using a combination of geothermal, wind, solar, and methane energy capture. He also hopes to use the geothermally climate controlled space to store vegetable crops so that he can market them at times beyond the growing season.

Charles believes geothermal climate control will be useful to other farmers who need to climate control a room for various farming operations. He hopes that his system will be an example for other farmers to try and encourage them to use more sustainable sources of energy and to practice smart design in their operations.

He hope hopes that growing mushrooms year round with geothermal should allow them to produce 5 to 6 crops per year yielding 500 pounds of mushrooms per crop. At wholesale price, Charles anticipates this would increase the farms income by $9 to $10K annually.