Fungi, Biomass, and Workforce Development

Fungi, Biomass, and Workforce Development


Team Information
Modesto Mushroom Project
Work & Economic Growth

Modesto Junior College

Team Member #4 Organization (College, Work, etc.)

Modesto Junior College

About the Problem

About the Problem

One-Line Problem Summary

Local workforce education and training for mycology and adjacent fields does not currently exist. The application of fungi for the remediation of biomass in Stanislaus County is not currently being employed.

Context & Problem Description

Stanislaus County is home to huge agricultural production systems resulting in vast amounts of biomass waste. This region also hosts large underserved and economically depressed populations. Establishing programs addressing agricultural waste streams while lowering barriers to entry combined with workforce development opportunities are ideal conditions capable of fostering transferrable skills and greater economic possibilities to the greater community.

Problem Category

Work & Economic Growth

How did you identify this problem? (Research, Interviews, etc.)

This problem was identified through a research fellowship involving biomass and the Stanislaus 2030 Brookings Institute report. The fellowship involved peer group collaboration and assessments, industry and academic surveys and interviews, literature review and research, and applicable experience through peer group employment within relevant industries.

Are you currently enrolled at Modesto Junior College?


Problem Details

Who are those affected by this problem? (Provide detailed information including statistics, demographics, etc.)

Currently, 53% of Stanislaus County adults and seniors are struggling to make ends meet. Demographics consist of low-skilled or mid-skilled, under-educated groups across all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

How often does this problem occur?

Poverty has been a substantial issue in our community for decades. There is data to support a widespread lack of education in being a significant contributing factor to this problem.

How long has the problem been going on?

This is a systemic and endemic problem that has been in our community for decades.

How is the problem disrupting your community?

Stagnant wages, homelessness, poverty, lack of economic opportunity, impeded upward mobility, deficient local economic development, depressed rates of higher education attainment and recruitment.

Is the issue perceived as a problem by the community at large?

The issue and its widespread results are perceived as a significant community problem. The Stanislaus 2030 report outlines much if it in detail.

Is the problem limited to certain geographic areas?

For our purposes, this problem affects the tri-county region of Stanislaus, San Joaquin, and Merced counties. It is, however, an expanded problem for much of the greater Central Valley of California.

Who are the Stakeholders, those wanting this problem to be fixed?

Stakeholders would be anyone living in the tri-county region. Broadly, entities interested in fixing these problems involves local/state agencies, local industries, underserved and economically depressed communities, and educational institutions.

Solution Overview

Solution Name

Education and Workforce Development

One-Line Solution Summary

Training/education will provide currently absent opportunities for our community

Solution Pitch (This is your Elevator Pitch)

Apply skills-based training/education to community members. The goal is to solve ag waste problems and provide food and economic mobility to underserved persons in our community.

Solution Description

Continue to grow the Modesto Mushroom Project. We have built and are using a mycology lab to grow fungi on ag waste and will be teaching a course entitled Mushroom Growing for Beginners through MJC’s Community Lifelong Learning Dept. We want it to be a self-sustaining hub of education, food production, and workforce development. This approach has a low entry barrier, is maximally inclusive, and can provide broadly applicable skills for use in local industries or new industry development.

Team Leader Email (College/Organization/Etc.)

Solution Details

How long have you been working on your solution?

We began working on this project in September 2023.

How/Why are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

We have the skills, knowledge, equipment, support, motivation, and vision to drive our solutions forward. We also have the endorsement of MJC and the Innovation Center.

What steps have you taken to understand the needs of the population you want to serve?

Considerable time/effort has been invested through the Biomass Fellowship into researching/evaluating the current state of our county. We have identified solutions that should address these main problems through community and industry engagement.

Which aspects of the problem does your solution most closely address?

Workforce development, education, and training.

What is your solution's current stage of development?

Equipment and infrastructure have been almost completely acquired. We are beginning the training of people most closely involved with us at MJC and the next phase will be the class, which will be taught from March 23rd to April 27th 2024.

Implementing Phase

What is your implementation plan?

Continue in-house education/training. Secure enrollment for upcoming class. Grow community outreach and partnerships with industries. Continue working towards Stanislaus 2030 agenda items. We have already begun cultivation of mushrooms.

How many people do you plan to serve in the next year?

We intend on having at least 3 classes in the next year. We anticipate serving at least 50 students with training and education.

What are your 6-month and 12-month goals?

6-month goals: Conduct mushroom class, ramp up mushroom production, train 15 students. 12-month goals: Conduct 3 mushroom classes, train 50 students, expand community engagement.

What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year?

Funding is the main barrier towards accomplishing our goals. We will need assistance with expansion, equipment and consumable costs, as well as labor inputs.

How do you plan to overcome these barriers?

Thus far, we have been fortunate to have some small grants available to get this project up and running. Persons in key positions at MJC have been supportive of our efforts and we will hopefully be included in further grant applications.

How are you measuring or planning to measure your progress toward your goals?

A key metric will be student enrollment in our upcoming classes. Successful partnerships and outlets for our project will also provide markers for progress.

Do you currently partner with any individuals/organizations?


How are you working with them?

Our class is in partnership with MJC’s Innovation Center and the Community Lifelong Learning Dept. The dean of the Science Dept at MJC has granted us the space and use of equipment to move our project forward.

Our team consists of four members, Michael, Laurence, Debbie, and Timothy, with each person contributing their unique skillsets to our project. Michael Dark is a MJC graduate with an A.S. degree in Soil Science and a bachelor’s degree in Crops, Horticulture, and Land Resource Management from CSU, Chico. He provides expertise, knowledge, education, and training surrounding mushroom cultivation, biomass substrate utilization processes, research capabilities, and a solid agricultural education background. His primary goals are to bring mushroom cultivation to the Modesto region, educate students and community members on the importance of fungi as it relates to food and medicine, agricultural systems, environmental sustainability, and workforce development in general, and more specifically provide avenues into biological sciences that address gaps with respect to underserved communities as outlined within the Stanislaus 2030 Brookings Report. Michael is currently the lead educator of an upcoming Mushroom Growing for Beginners class hosted at MJC in partnership with the Innovation Center and the Community Lifelong Learning Department. Laurence Tabangcura is a current MJC student, biomass researcher, and aspiring mycologist, who wishes to use this project to gain further expertise in mushroom cultivation. He intends to further his ability to grow food and medicine for himself and his community and gain valuable training and education within the field of biological sciences in the process. Laurence also strives to address biomass related issues impacting our region as identified within the Bookings Institute’s Stanislaus 2030 report. Some of his core motivations involve environmental stewardship as it relates to currently discarded or underutilized biomass streams from both agricultural systems and invasive species, and this project provides a launching point for furthering those aims. Dr. Debbie Gilbert is a tenured faculty member at MJC with a passion for innovation and student development. In addition to teaching English, she is currently the co-coordinator of MJC's Innovation Center, which is a collaborative maker space and, more recently, was the central hub for the Biomass Research Fellowship conducted in the summer of 2023. She has been, and will continue to be, the central driving force, liaison, mentor, and facilitator of biomass-related projects involving aims fundamentally targeted at addressing community engagement with the Stanislaus 2030 initiatives. Without her, none of what we have accomplished would have been possible. Timothy Brown is a full-time faculty member at MJC and currently serves as an Instructor of Agriculture in the fields of plant and soil science. He possesses extensive knowledge and expertise surrounding agricultural practices and education. Timothy serves as a mentor, educator, facilitator, and liaison serving as a necessary bridge between agricultural and biological sciences and its adjacent communities. His understanding of interface relationships between fungi and upstream and downstream agricultural applications presents directly applicable educational opportunities to address local food production, workforce training and development, environmental sustainability goals, soil fertility and health, and regenerative ecosystem stewardship. Lastly, we would like to add additional context that informs our project and its goals. This statement was derived from our Biomass Fellowship Workshop and summarizes why mycology can serve a larger purpose for this region and our communities. Currently, much of the discussion around the Stanislaus 2030 Investment Blueprint biomanufacturing industry inclusion is focusing on large, capital-rich infrastructure, presumably meeting larger swaths of the blueprint’s stated objectives. While a grand vision is admirable and necessary, ignoring smaller aggregate potential cottage industries inhibits conceivable solutions to our biomass problems. General literacy around biological science and application will likely become a prerequisite for anyone involved in biomanufacturing or biotechnology. Mycology, as a part of biological sciences, opens the door for an increasingly valuable workforce with transferable skills related to biotechnology and adjacent sectors. The lack of a biomass industry built around mycology in this tri-county region is ignoring a large gap in potential workforce training and the development of a mid-skilled community labor pool. Across the world, many people have taken freely available information on the internet and built family-sustaining businesses around mushroom cultivation, be that actual fruiting body production, mycological supply and substrate preparation companies, or medicinal extraction facilities. The barrier to entry is low, minimal education is required, and often, short-term workshop trainings are all that are needed for basic skill acquisition. Education and training can be incorporated into both K-12 curriculum and college-level coursework, eventually providing a steady stream of capable workforce participants with transferable skillsets. A scarcity of research into possibly viable, locally available biomass inputs means that substrate research opportunities are wide open. Further, many components of the mycological industry are exceedingly scalable, offering cottage industry opportunities to those that may otherwise not have access to an entry into biological sciences. Mycology and working with fungi are viable analogs for a biomanufacturing adjacent industry within Stanislaus and surrounding counties.