When I began telling my friends and family that I was going to take a weekend-long mushroom growing class, I got some funny looks. And some suspicious looks. I don’t even like mushrooms. My friend Alan told me it was the most hippie thing I’ve ever done. And I must admit, I kinda thought it was probably going to be the most hippie thing I’ve ever done. I didn’t know what to expect when I showed up to the two and a half day long course, but I definitely was surprised to see about thirty other people attending from all over the region. There were biologists, botanists, seasoned farmers, and all kinds of other fungi enthusiasts…and some hippies. But guess what, I’m married to a hippie at heart, and I may even be part hippie myself (not sure what that makes Oliver).
The course was led by Peter McCoy of Radical Mycology. Peter is a younger guy, maybe a few years older than me, but he was definitely a well-seasoned authority on all things fungi. In fact, he suggested that we all begin adopting the word fungi in place of mushrooms simply because of the looks you get from people when you mention growing mushrooms. There are many negative connotations associated with “mushrooms.” Additionally, mushrooms are simply the fruiting body of a much more vast and mysterious network of vegetative fungal tissue called mycelium. Mycelium is everywhere in the world around us, mainly beneath our feet. In fact, there was a 2400 acre forest plot in Oregon that had a single contiguous growth of mycelium, and was about 2,200 years old before logging roads tore through it. It’s thought that it was the oldest living organism on the planet. Peter also taught us about how fungi can also be cultivated as a way to clean up toxins in soil. They can even be “trained” to be more aggressive with certain soil contaminates by introducing samples of those contaminates early into their life cycle.
Anyway, we learned all about cultivating fungi. We learned aseptic lab-based techniques using petri dishes, as well as more practical DIY techniques using liquid cultures of fungi, and also much more low-tech methods pretty much involving spraying “mushroom juice” all over the place and hoping for the best (I may be slightly exaggerating on that last technique, but not really all that much). At the end of the class we were each given four syringes containing liquid cultures of various species of fungi. I opted for Elm Oyster, King Stropharia, Lion’s Mane and Shitake. The cultures will last for about a month as is, so the first thing I’ll be doing is making additional cultures to serve as backups just in case any of them get contaminated. Once you have a few nicely established cultures, you pretty much have them for as long as you want, so long as you keep them fed (by transferring them into additional jars of sugar water), and contaminate free.
So I guess now I’m a mushroom farmer. Or excuse me, a fungi farmer. We’re excited not just to try our hand at growing mushrooms for the market and other outlets, but also to cultivate fungi as a way to strengthen our soil on The Twenty. It all starts with good soil. If cultivating fungi doesn’t make for having better soil, I’ll eat my hat. Or even worse…a mushroom.