From Junk Pile To Gourmet Mushooms and Pasture: Creating Productive Spaces Where It Seems Hopeless

Avatar Samantha Biggers  |  Updated: October 25, 2018
From Junk Pile To Gourmet Mushooms and Pasture: Creating Productive Spaces Where It Seems Hopeless

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Finally moving to a new property can be exciting. Looking for a new place can be stressful too. I want to tell you that you should not let a bit of junk stop you from getting a great place. There are probably going to be a few messes that you discover that you did not know were lurking around too.

When Matt and I moved to our property, there were parts of it that had been used by family members to dump garbage. It was maddening. For starters, there is a dump that is paid for by tax dollars. For another, they were allowing others that they worked for like contractors to dump out garbage they collected from remodeling homes.

It is insane just how determined my family was to pile up garbage and destroy the land that our grandfather worked hard to make sure was handed down. They never appreciated anything in their lives. You may run into similar issues if you are ever given a chunk of family land too. It is almost worse in a way when you know exactly who it was dumping or authorizing the dumping.

I am writing this piece because I want others that are just starting on places or looking for a place, to realize that you can go from a disgusting mess to a productive and beautiful area. It may be hard to see when you first get started but there is so much you can do to completely change a spot if you keep working at it. We were so overwhelmed with the spot that is the main topic of this post that we gave up on it for a year to do things that were more important at the time on our place.

We hauled off countless loads of trash from this pile. There were at least four water heaters, enough car parts to make a racer, old blinds from houses, chairs, clothing, and disturbingly enough, women’s purses with ID and everything. I think a family member was stealing purses and then dumping the contents that were of no value, into the pile so they wouldn’t be seen. This person knows who they are and I am pleased to say they never got ahead in life behaving the way they did back then. They are a miserable addict/wreck that got the life they chose.


It takes a long time to get some situations under control. This area was a garbage pile for years. There seemed to be layer after layer. We still get some bits of glass working their way to the surface. I occasionally do a sweep of the area and get little bits. This is just the way it is unless you cover things with a lot of fill dirt. What little bits surface is nothing I just try to get them once in a while, so a dog doesn’t get a cut paw or something.

The Mushroom Logs


Matt and I have been growing mushrooms for many years now. I learned how to at 20 years old at Warren Wilson College and have been growing them off and on since then with the last ten years being constant mushroom production. The logs we did back in 2009 and 10 started producing very little, and it was clear we needed to do some more logs, and we had a lot of trees that needed to be cleared. We got 12 bags of spawn and Matt went to work getting the trees cut up to size, wedging, and drilling out holes.

We did a variety of mushrooms, shiitakes, oysters, Lion’s mane, and Namenkos. The site has done wonderfully. We are getting big flushes in an area that was just garbage and briars not too long ago. It is a lot of food value. Even the cheapest mushrooms in the store are $4 an lb, and these are gourmet and fancy varieties that fetch $10 or more if you can find them.

At the moment I am drying a lot of mushrooms out because we are getting so many it is impossible to eat so many fresh. It is so great to have dried mushrooms to cook within the winter months.

If I have taters, carrots, onions, and mushrooms, I always feel pretty secure in the veggie department because I can make so many meals with those things, especially if I have a few types of meat in the refrigerator or freezer.

Look beyond the mess

Creating a long-term plan can be difficult when all you see is a giant mess in front of you. When you look at your mess, you need to try to see it with different eyes. What if it were gone? What could you use that space for? What do you think would offer you the most benefit?

Chemical or toxic dump areas have to be handled differently

Of course, there are some sites where the damage goes beyond just a bunch of rubbish causing space to be taken up or a slight safety hazard. If there are true chemical residues, then you may be more limited with what you can do with a site, at least for a few years. There are things you can do to help remove toxins. Although you would not be eating them, there are mushrooms that can help eliminate toxins from the soil and water.

Here are a few articles on Mycoremediation or using mushrooms to clean up toxic areas.

Mycoremediation – Using Mushrooms To Clean up Toxic Waste in Our Environment

City to try to using mushrooms to clean up dioxin-laden site

How Mushrooms Can Save The World

Growing flowers is another option because you are not going to eat those. Cut flowers look good on your table, and they fetch a good price at the farmer’s market if you wanted to sell a few.

If you are very concerned about a site that has been contaminated you may want to contact your local county environmental services department for advice. There may be free tests and other support and advice available to you.

Our second dump site was a whole building!

This site still needs a lot of work, but if you had seen the worst of the inside of this, you would have probably told us to get a machine and a dumpster. To be honest with you this building came down in a rage. I have spent a lot of years cleaning up the insane amount of garbage and filth my family seemed to think was a good idea to keep around. One evening after a beer or two we just took the sledgehammers to the remainder of the building and took it down to one story.

After that eventful evening, we started hauling debris to a burn pile and then demolished all the block. The building foundation was just not done well so building back on the foundation was not a feasible thing to consider. We used the old cinder block as filler for establishing roads around our place. We threw dirt over what little bits we couldn’t get and the floor. Grass seed was an additional touch, and now this building area is a road and entry to a larger pasture area.

The sheep will graze it, and there is not a huge eyesore that the neighbors can use to teach their kids to shoot rats. The embarrassing mess I inherited is no more. Sometimes buildings are just not salvageable. I would have loved to have been able to do something with what used to be my grandfather’s workspace, but hundreds of bags of trash and no upkeep meant that his workspace was never going to be restored.

I just feel good about us being able to use anything at all from the building. At least we have better roads and space where the building uses to have grass for grazing sheep and not a ton of garbage and Thunderbird fortified wine bottles. If this is the last stash of Thunderbird and dirty magazines I find left over from certain people, I will be happy.

There is no telling what you will find.

As you might have gathered from this post, there are a lot of different things you might find when you start cleaning up a place. I recommend that anyone moving or inheriting anything at all, get one of the large packages of contractor size and strength trash bags because you will need them over time. There is always more garbage and junk then what you might realize. Once you get started moving something along it can be amazing.

Some of the stuff we found was a little funny. Like the matchbook with a girl’s number on the back from a nightclub, my Grandpa used to go to.


You are going to need a pack of heavy duty gloves. Get some rubberized ones if there is anything particularly wet and gross. Getting cuts or scratches is usually the main thing to look out for. Be very careful about pulling things out of the ground. You really have no way of knowing what is down there.

Make sure your tetanus shot is up to date if you are going to be doing a lot of clean up and farming activities.

Any job where you are at risk of puncture wounds by old metal is a situation where tetanus is a concern. You can always get one after the fact, but since they are free or cost very little at the health department, you should just keep up with it since you only need one every ten years. Tetanus is very rare, especially if anyone has ever had a single vaccination against it.

Watch out for vermin and varmints

Piles that have been laying around awhile probably have some residents unless you have taken previous measures to rid your place of some vermin. Rats, mice, snakes, spiders, raccoons, opossums, and more love a good junk pile. You can set a live trap and then relocate some animals if you prefer.

Keep it safe and get rid of the dangerous junk

A site like what I have been talking about is not safe for kids or pets. That is one of the reasons I wanted to get rid of some of the piles so fast. I did not want there to be injuries over the years. It only takes a little bit of glass to cut someone or maim a dog’s paw.

The sheep are notorious for getting a lot of things tangled up in their fleece which can be a major problem. If a sheep gets tangled in something, then you have to cut around their fleece, and they are very scared and impossible to soothe very much. Sheep have a very big response to being caught in the least.

Choose your battles

Get the worst and most dangerous spots cleaned up first. Also, know when the job is too big for you to deal with in the time frame needed. If you have a really big mess that is in the way of where you want to build your house, then you are not going to want to be too patient.

Look over property well before purchasing. You may be able to use the amount of mess you find as leverage to get a better price.

If a property has significant cleanup costs to make it nice, you can use this during negotiations. At the very least maybe you can get enough knocked off the price to pay for the cleanup.

Ideally, it would be enough where you could pay someone else to do it for you if the messes are substantial.  Make sure to take pictures. If someone doesn’t want you walking around and exploring a place well before purchase, then that may be a warning sign that something is wrong with it.

Have you turned a garbage pile into something better? 

Samantha Biggers can be reached at

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2 Responses to “From Junk Pile To Gourmet Mushooms and Pasture: Creating Productive Spaces Where It Seems Hopeless”

  1. One of the acres that we purchased in 2006 was a true jungle. My husband began clearing it several years ago. The place was overrun with Smilax vines and created an almost impenetrable wall. Finally, getting some spots cleared, he noticed some trash. Beginning to dig, he found four or five trash dumps. Overall, he found 3-4 cases of canning jars, still intact (I cleaned, sterilized and used!); 2 5-gallon buckets of glass telephone transformers; batteries; car parts; motorcycle parts; mini-blinds; along with enough trash to burn for days. We still continue to find trash buried all over that acre, but for the most part have managed to clean most of it. We are slowly working on timber control (we have some very weird shapes) and are taking down many of the trees. We now have a herd of dairy goats, 5 dozen chickens, 3 ducks and 2 donkeys living on that acres. Took a lot of work, but we are proud to have been able to reclaim this acre and put some permaculture aspects into play. Thanks for the article…we can relate!

  2. Be sure you know what you are throwing away. Some very odd things have some very good value and can be worth good money to collectors and antique dealers. I was given a ‘junk’ coin by someone and found out later it was an 1863 civil war token and I sold it for $750.00.

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