Matt Arthur prepares a block of enriched sawdust substrate while his daughter Waverly Arthur, 8, watches on Feb. 8 in Fulton, Mo. After he inoculates the substrate with spores and keeps it in temperature controlled rooms, the mushrooms will begin to fruit at around five weeks.
A collection of mushrooms sits in a tote bin. Arthur feeds the mushroom trimmings to composting worms to create worm castings, a form of natural fertilizer. “Having worm castings in the mix provides a tremendous boost of microbes and really helps the plants be healthy and take full advantage of the fertilizer you do apply,” Arthur said.
Eddie Vickery, a part-time farm hand at Booneslick Heritage Farm, harvests mushrooms. The facility, made from a converted shipping container, has three rooms dedicated to separate phases in the mushroom growing process.
Matt Arthur helps his daughter, Waverly Arthur, 8, through her homeschool work. Part of Waverly’s education is through the work she does on the farm with her father.
Matt Arthur holds a tray of seedlings. As part of Booneslick Heritage’s regenerative agriculture practices, the farm is no-till, a technique for growing crops without disturbing the soil structure. “Not tilling allows [crops] to respond better, right?” Arthur said. “You reduce erosion and allow for more carbon buildup and more worms in the soil. It allows your plants to actually thrive.”
Waverly Arthur, 8, picks a carrot from the ground at Booneslick Heritage Farm in Midway, Mo. For each new vegetable or flower bed Matt Arthur creates on the farm, he follows the same process. He doesn’t till the land. Then, he lays down cardboard, mushroom compost and a drip line for watering.
Matt Arthur washes off a carrot for his daughter, Waverly Arthur. Another aspect of Arthur’s practices includes keeping hardy crops, like the winter carrots, in the ground as long as possible.
Matt Arthur and his daughter Waverly Arthur uncover flower beds in anticipation of warmer weather at Booneslick Heritage Farm in Midway, Mo. Arthur attributes the health of his land’s soil to his regenerative agriculture practices.

Missouri farm embraces regenerative agriculture using mushrooms

Booneslick Heritage Farm uses sustainable farming practices to improve soil health and reduce fertilizer use

Photo essay and story by Maya Bell
Golden oyster mushrooms wait to be harvested from a brick of enriched sawdust on Feb. 8 in Fulton, Mo. Along with selling the mushrooms, Matt Arthur, owner of Booneslick Heritage Farm, creates mushroom compost out of the leftover substrate blocks and uses it to improve soil health at the farm, where he grows a variety of vegetables and flowers.

FULTON, Mo. – For the first few weeks of 2023, HBO’s The Last of Us suggested that a brain-eating fungus could cause societal collapse. In real life, mushrooms cannot turn people into zombies. To the contrary, they can provide a helpful service. 

At Booneslick Heritage Farm, mushrooms are an integral part of the agriculture system. The family-owned flower and vegetable farm in Mid-Missouri uses several regenerative agriculture practices to improve overall soil health and reduce fertilizer use. 

Matt Arthur co-owns the farm with his wife Laura Hudson. Booneslick Heritage flowers, mushrooms and vegetables can be found at the Columbia Farmers Market and grocery stores and are available for local delivery. The vegetable and flower operation sits on top of rolling hills in Rocheport, a few miles west of Columbia. The plots include many varieties of perennial and annual flowers, as well as a handful of vegetables. About 30 miles away in Fulton, the couple operates a mushroom-growing facility out of converted shipping containers. 

The mushroom operation is key to the whole farm. Once Arthur has harvested and sold the mushrooms, he cycles the remains back into the farm to enrich the soil. The sawdust blocks that grow the mushrooms even get turned into compost once they’re no longer productive for growing. 

“We also take the trimmings of the mushrooms, the parts we don’t sell, and feed them to composting worms,” Arthur said.

The worms eat the trimmings and poop out a form of natural fertilizer called worm castings. Arthur uses the castings as a seed starting mix. He says the process helps germination rates in seedlings. 

Arthur grew up on a farm and learned from his parents the benefit of minimizing synthetic additive use.

“We always heard about no-till and soil health growing up,” Arthur said. “They always focused on minimizing soil disturbance or being very selective about what sprays they do use and why.”

Arthur applies an organic fertilizer called Dyna Green Nutri-Blend made from a mixture of feather meal, soft rock phosphate, calcium carbonate, alfalfa meal, diatomaceous earth and sulfate potash. While the organic fertilizer aids in plant fertility, he said that he is certain he uses it at a lower rate because of his no-till practices and soil amendments that add carbon to the soil. 

“You’re not seeing this boom-and-bust effect of plant fertility because you’re not burning through your carbon stock,” Arthur said. 

By practicing these intensive regenerative methods, Arthur hopes to build the health of his plants and soil year by year. 

In a video made for the Columbia Farmers Market, Arthur emphasizes the importance of soil health. “Our feeling is, if you’re bringing material from off-farm onto the farm for your operations, it’s not sustainable,” Arthur says in the video. “Overall, we’re just committed to doing as little disturbance of the land as possible.”

This story is part of The Price of Plenty, a special project investigating fertilizer from the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications and the University of Missouri School of Journalism, supported by the Pulitzer Center’s nationwide Connected Coastlines reporting initiative.

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