Author Technology and Engineering Teacher - Volume 76, Issue 4 - December/January 2017
PublisherITEEA, Reston, VA
ReleasedNovember 15, 2016
Technology and Engineering Teacher - Volume 76, Issue 4 - December/January 2017

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The Mushroom-Growing Challenge


Mushrooms are a tasty addition to any meal, but often expensive. So why not grow them for local markets? How might this be done on a large-scale basis?



How about using old red brick factory buildings—those with multiple, sturdy floors that perhaps once housed heavy equipment and manufacturing facilities? Cities generally have a number of these buildings, either empty or abandoned, that could be recycled for other uses…perhaps for growing shade-preferring mushrooms!


Examining the Problem in Detail

Let’s start with a three-level red brick facility, with a full basement and two above-ground floors. This shall be our initial design challenge basis. The basic problem is: How do we convert an old manufacturing building to an enclosed mushroom-growing facility?


First we need to establish some student teams so we can know something about growing mushrooms—their soil preferences; growing-maturation times; kinds that are desired by restaurants and home kitchens; quality and safety of mushrooms being grown, etc. This is best approached with students performing in-depth internet research.


How are mushrooms grown commercially today? Has anyone tried to grow them indoors? How has this worked? What are the chief concerns and experiences?


Using a typical red brick factory building as a starting point, how can it be converted to an indoor farming area for mushrooms—specifically:

•     How much soil would be needed?

•     How much might all this soil and entrapped water weigh?

•     Can the old factory floors support this weight?


Seems like your student teams need to know something about how old factory buildings and floors were constructed as well as their structural design and load-bearing capabilities. Generally, these structures were designed to support 125-250 pounds per square foot of floor area—but this needs to be checked. Has age possibly weakened these original load-bearing figures? Are there structural engineers and architects who have looked into this? Old factory buildings are converted to condominiums and artists’ lofts in many cities. How are floor-loading issues handled—and how might this relate to an indoor mushroom-growing facility? Have similar buildings been converted to living spaces in your city/town? Might your town engineer have time to talk with your student teams?


•     How would the mass of soil be irrigated and drained?

•     What kinds of lighting might be employed—natural, shade, artificial?

•     How about temperature control for the mushrooms as they grow?

•     Will pesticides be required?


Low-cost greenhouses are very popular for ornamental plants. Is there some technology that can be transferred to growing mushrooms inside old buildings? Where are the similarities and differences between greenhouses and our discussion about indoor farming?


•     With all the indoor moisture, wet soil, and potential for air-borne fungus…does this present a problem for human workers?

•     Could the mushroom-growing process be automated?

•     What monitoring and safety features might need to installed?

•     Does this facility need to be air-conditioned for occupancy by humans?

•     Does your municipality have special codes and standards governing indoor greenhouses, e.g., standards that must be complied with?


Expressing a Design

Students should make extensive use of diagrams and illustrations to describe how this facility would look and operate. Written reports by the teams should discuss:

•     Costs, both fixed and operational, for their design.

•     Impacts on the neighborhood where the old factory is situated.

•     Potential jobs for local inhabitants.

•     Potential mushroom sales and profits.

•     Customers who will purchase the mushrooms.

•     Branding the mushrooms with their own corporate identity.

•     Marketing the mushrooms—where sold and why?

•     Harvesting and packaging the mushrooms for sale.

•     Trucking the mushrooms to market.


Students should be encouraged to make cardboard models of the revamped old factory building. Architectural students do this regularly. Would it be worthwhile to invite college-level architectural professors and students into your classroom to discuss what your student teams are doing and to offer some guidance and mentorship?


Other Thoughts

Here are some provocative additional thoughts for your teams to consider:

•     Can other valuable crop varieties also be grown in this facility?

•     Is there a role for alternate energy technologies to play in the renovated facility?

•     Can this special re-use of old city structures inspire other types of facilities?

•     Is this a viable way to renew an old urban industrial base?


Engage your students in this real-world problem. Empower them to use their imaginations and creativity.


They may never see mushrooms the same way again!


Harry T. Roman is a retired engineer/inventor and author of technology education/STEM books, math card games, and teacher resource materials. He can be reached at