What is Radical Mycology?
Radical Mycology is a grassroots movement and social philosophy centered around teaching the importance of working with mushrooms and other fungi for personal, societal, and ecological resilience. Whereas traditional mycological organizations (e.g. mycological clubs and societies) have historically focused on fungal taxonomy, identification, mycophagy (eating mushrooms), and some of the more personal benefits of working with fungi, Radical Mycology works to strengthen relationships between fungi and human communities by teaching skills that have a wide range of applications. We work to reunite humans with fungi—to help all remember the importance that fungi have played in the human story, from prehistory to the present.
As a philosophy, Radical Mycology suggests that the highly resilient life cycles of fungi and their interactions in nature serve as powerful learning tools for how humans can best relate to each other and help steward the environment. We believe that many unique lessons about natural patterns and principles can be gleaned from observing and interacting with fungi and we work to communicate those insights in hopes of inspiring others to do the same.
As a 501(c)3 non-profit sponsored organization, our work is unconventional and various, with efforts ranging from event and workshop organizing to the production of traditional and new media (e.g. radio, film, blog, literature, and other tools). These efforts teach many ways humans can engage with fungi: from cultivating fungi for food sovereignty or medicine creation, to allying with fungi for ecological rehabilitation and regeneration efforts. Along the way, we also actively seek to help build a network among those who align with the values and ideas we present, so as to create a community of like-minded and traditionally widely dispersed individuals.
Our goal over the next generation is to build a thriving mycological community and movement around the world that build healthier ecologies, economies, watersheds, and a mycological culture. We believe our movement can succeed with strong communication, sustainable practices, and most importantly, widespread collaboration.
How Did Radical Mycology Take Shape?
The Radical Mycology project grew out of a shared vision between two friends, Peter McCoy and Maya Elson. In 2006, Peter and Maya met in Olympia, WA through their shared interest in mycology, environmental protection, and social organizing. The two soon realized that they also shared a belief that mycology could play an important, yet largely unrecognized and untapped role in supporting a wide range of food, health, environmental, and social movements. They also agreed that there was much to learn from the fungi and their mycelial networks on how to structure cultures and societies in ways that are more inspired by the symbiotic and supportive relationships found throughout the Fungal Kingdom and nature at large. On all levels, it seemed, the fungi exemplified many successful models that humans could learn from—a realization that eventually became an entire social philosophy based on the value of seeing fungi as teachers and allies in efforts for creating a just and healthy world.
In 2009, these ideas and intersection were finally synthesized by Peter in a zine (booklet) entitled Radical Mycology, which was soon sent to various zine libraries and distributors around the world. The popularity and the positive feedback that the zine received eventually inspired the two to organize the first Radical Mycology Convergence (RMC) in 2011. Modeled after the networked and collaborative structure of mushroom mycelium, RMCs are donation-based events that teach the many skills related to appropriately applied mycology (e.g. low-cost and low-impact mushroom cultivation, safe and effective mycoremediation, and holistic natural medicine creation), while actively building a supportive community of like-minded fungal enthusiasts and environmental protection advocates. Since the first four RMCs, a Mycelial Network of mycollaborators has popped up around the country that works to spread the ideas and methods underlying Radical Mycology.
Where Does Radical Mycology Appear and Show Their Work?
All over! We have presented at universities, book stores, infoshops, community spaces, conferences on food, environmental and social justice issues, as well as at numerous permaculture, mycological, and community building events. In 2014, folks from Radical Mycology made a three-month workshop and event tour across North America to share their knowledge with a wide range of audiences. The group plans to hold similar tours in the future.
Want to bring Radical Mycology to your organization? Contact spores [at] radicalmycology [dot] com for more information.
Why is Mycology Important?
Mycology has been considered a “negelected megascience”: a field of natural science that while known to be of central importance to all ecological niches and many biogeophysical cycles, remains largely misunderstood and overlooked by the average person today. In our opinion, it can be fairly argued that fungi—not plants or animals—are the primary eukaryotic drivers behind the world’s great nutrient cycles. Comparable in influence only to the innumerable bacterium of the world (and even the, fungi do much that bacteria cannot), fungi profoundly affect all of life in ways humans that have only just begun to comprehend.
Adding to this ecological importance of fungi, is the growing awareness that mushrooms and other fungi offer many unique solutions to a wide range of challenging issues and pressing world problems. The recent Western surge in fascination with fungi has created a new wave of mycological discovery that is leading to increasingly diverse means of working with fungi for environmental restoration, waste management, and even more efficient forms of habitat construction. As one of the youngest natural sciences, mycology is one of the few areas of science that any citizen scientist can actively and significantly contribute to. The future of mycology looks to only further expand our currently limited understanding of the complex and dynamic fungal potential lying just beneath the soil surface.
We see the cultivation and appropriate application of mushrooms and other fungi as a practice that has numerous implications for improving the quality of life for the Earth’s inhabitants. The world of mycology is always expanding and the practical integration of fungi into modern life is constantly taking new forms. But, in sum, here is a short of list of some of the more inspiring ways to work with fungi:
- Mushrooms are a nutritious, healthy whole food that can be grown off many agricultural and urban waste products that have no other practical or market value. Mushrooms can be grown off of paper waste, coffee waste, and many invasive plants such as Scotch Broom and Water Hyacinth (one of the fastest growing plants in the world). A more global understanding of mushroom cultivation could easily help address food shortage issues, while also readily providing protein- and mineral-rich foods to malnourished parts of the world.
- Many mushrooms are potent natural medicines that have been shown in hundreds of studies to stimulate and support immune function, reduce the spread and recurrence of various types of cancer, kill viruses, and even reverse dementia, to give just a few examples. Fungi—like other natural medicines—provide a powerful preventative alternative to the expensive, and often side-effect-laden pharmaceuticals found in allopathic medicine.
- The cultivation of edible and medicinal mushrooms and their mycelium offers a range of novel economic sectors and a significant potential to help revitalize depressed economies and provide jobs to people of all backgrounds and physical ability levels.
- Various types of fungi can help regenerate landscape vitality by breaking down toxic and persistent chemicals, cleaning polluted water, removing heavy metals from contaminated water and soil systems, and even by breaking down plastic. These practices have the potential to be very cost-effective compared to other industrial remediation efforts, while also producing valuable byproducts, such as mushroom compost.
- Mushrooms and other types of fungi readily integrate into sustainable and regenerative food systems to make them more efficient and productive. Fungi are often largely absent from such perpetual food systems, despite the abilities of fungi help close loops and make use of waste streams, returning excess nutrients back into the soil matrix.
- Mycorrhizal fungi can be cultivated to build strength soil webs, support plant health in numerous ways, reduce fertilizer and pesticide inputs, and ultimately reduce or reverse many of the negative impacts that come with industrial agricultural practices.
- Some fungi ferment foods, making them more nutritious and easy to preserve, while also helping maintain traditional food ways.
- Mushrooms and lichens can produce natural dyes, papers, clothing, and pigments. These products not only lead to increased degrees of self sufficiency, they also help reduce one’s reliance on various environmentally-harmful industrial products.
- The identification and wild harvesting of mushrooms and lichens hones one’s awareness and understanding of ecological systems, while simultaneously providing sustenance and medicine. The identification of endangered fungi and lichens can also help protect areas of land from deforestation or other forms of habitat destruction.
- Fungal mycelium has been called the “plastic of the future,” as it’s a novel substance engineering-wise with an essentially untapped potential for replacing many wood- and plastics-based materials with products that are biodegradable, natural, low-cost, and easy for anyone to grow and replace.
- Various types of fungi produce alternative fuel sources (e.g. ethanol) through their natural fermentation processes.
- Psychoactive fungi can dramatically influence one’s relationship with themself, their society, and the environment. For some, new perspectives can arise from these experiences that encourage a greater valuing and protection for the environment and all people.
Beyond all this, when one works with fungi the possibility also arises to develop a fungal-influenced perspective on the interdependence of natural systems and human systems—to see through the mycelial lens and apply that insight to one’s level of engagement with the world. Considering all of the above, one should ask themselves why are we so often taught to ignore and even fungi in Western cultures and why fungi are essentially absent from school curricula at all grades levels.
Why Do You Do This Work?
As the years progress, one can more readily see the impacts of human activity increasing alongside an increased desire and necessity to find appropriate and effective strategies to address these issues. “Climate weirding,” increased rates of disease, reduced access to clean water, and the mass extinction of species are just a few of the important issues underlying a need to find alternative solutions to meeting basic human needs while sustainably stewarding Earth. Radical Mycology is not presented as the sole solution to such problems, for the true solution to such systemic issues will come from eliminating the conditions that enable them to exist (e.g. economic structures that require growth at all costs, poorly designed industrial systems, over-consumptive societies, and political climates that disable the individual from having their concerns truly heard).
That said, we do believe that fungi are powerful allies in the effort to increase the vitality and resilience of the planet in the face of the social and ecological challenges it faces. We see the cultivation and appropriate application of fungi as a solution-based alternatives to many governmental and industrial practices that reduce quality of life. Throughout nature, fungi act as the primary regenerators of life and we see our work with fungi as one means to creating new paradigms for the creation of culture and human-ecological relations.
Radical Mycology can support any effort for increasing the health of one’s self, community, or land and we support a plurality of tactics that lead toward the quality of life offered by fungal relations. We believe that the skills and insights that come from working with mushrooms and other fungi are incredibly important tools for the change-maker tool box. But, unfortunately, are seemingly the tools that are the most often overlooked.
The use of the word “radical” to describe our approach to the science and culture of mycology is based on several factors. First, we see working with fungi to increase environmental resilience as an extension of radical/deep ecology: the recognition of the intrinsic and sacred value of every living thing. We also see our work as offering many means for bringing mycology out of the fringes and placing it where it has always bee: in the center of all aspects of life. Such an argument on its own can be seen as “radical” to some. The word “radical” comes from the Latin “radix,” for “root.” Many of the applications of mycology and the lessons that can be learned from their biology literally help get to the root of various global issues in a solution-oriented approach. Food shortages, water purity, soil fertility, pollution reduction, and democratic organization can informed through directed work with fungi. Lastly, we see our work as the newest era, or radical edge, in the evolution of mycology as an art and science. Whereas mycology was been presented as just the science of molds and mushrooms throughout the 20th century, we wish to expand the dialogue surrounding fungi to offer a range of new and alternative perspectives on this curious and even-intriguing field, as presented throughout our work.
What Reaction Do You Get From People Learning About Radical Mycology for the First Time?
The vast majority of our audiences are blown away when they learn of the endless possibilities presented in working with fungi. We’ve heard many times that our events are “life-changing” and “fascinating.” We have also been told that our approach to teaching mycology is only practical and applicable, but also well-organized and easy to understand.
How Can Someone Get Involved With Radical Mycology?
Check out our How to Help page, of course!