By Peter McCoy
The Radical Mycology Convergence (RMC) is a volunteer-run gathering that shares the knowledge and skills of working with fungi for personal, societal, and ecological health. A non-discriminatory and family-friendly event, the RMC welcomes people of all backgrounds to learn about and join the growing fields of sustainable mycology and bioremediation. The RMC teaches the means to work with fungi as a resilient food and medicine source as well a natural ally in efforts to help regenerate, remediate, and renew damaged environments. Emphasizing techniques that are low-cost, the skills and ethos presented at the RMC aim to support a wide range of grassroots efforts advocating for environmental protection, social justice, and local food autonomy.
In the fall of 2014, over 250 people from around the globe gathered at the 3rd Radical Mycology Convergence in Orangeville, IL to gain skills for working with fungi as personal, societal, and ecological medicine. Hosted on the private homestead of bioremediation expert Nance Klehm, the 2014 RMC built on the knowledge base laid at the previous 2 Convergences to further strengthen the emerging fields of community-scale mushroom cultivation and grassroots bioremediation. Hosting over 50 discussions and workshops and 8 edible and experimental remediation installations, this year’s RMC provided new insights into how fungi can help address the increasingly complex challenges of today’s world.
Film by Steve Zieverink
Set up for the RMC began at Fertile Substrate, a 3-day pre-Convergence educational work party where volunteers and organizers prepared piles of substrates, germinated installation inoculum, cleared and designated installation sites, built seating and other infrastructure, and cultured several locally harvested mushroom species such as Elm Oyster (Hypsizygus ulmarius), Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor), Enoki (Flammulina velutipes), Chicken-Of-The-Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus), and Maitake (Grifola frondosa).
Sourcing and preparing substrates
This year’s RMC hosted over 50 original workshops and discussions focused on one of the several major themes of the RMC: Fungal Biology & Ecology, Ethnomycology, Ecological Restoration & Remediation, and Fungal Cultivation. Many of the workshops intentionally covered topics and skills not typically addressed at mycological events such as using mushroom identification skills to help protect threatened habitats, cultivating mushrooms in arid and extreme environments/climates, the realities of running of a small mushroom farm, and teaching mycology to kids. Friday night’s campfire hosted a challenging discussion addressing the idea “dark ecology,” a theory proposed by author Timothy Morton that the pollution and destructive practices of modern living must be fully embraced in order to overcome them and move toward healthier lives and a healthier world. Also unique to the 2014 RMC teaching model was an expressed desire to increase the presence of women and trans mycologists at the Convergence. As a part of this effort, a discussion directly addressing the role and experience of women and trans people in mycological circles was held at the RMC. A summary of this conversation can be read here.
Descriptions of all the 2014 RMC workshops can be viewed here. Videos of the 2014 RMC’s workshops will be made available online for free in the coming months. To see those when they become available, you can subscribe to our YouTube channel here.
Nance Klehm on compost
Along with the cultivation workshops and theoretical discussions of the RMC another major component of the Convergence focused on putting theory to practice by facilitating hands-on remediative and regenerative fungal installations during the event. This year’s RMC brought about several novel approaches to working with fungi in landscape to mitigate pollution and renew disturbed habitats.
Determining the sites for remediation work to take place at the RMC was a months-long planning process. Several RMC organizers worked to identify needs, giving preference to issues related to chemical remediation strategies and strengthening local soil and aquatic ecologies. Zones of concern were selected on the property and collaborative planning discussions were held to develop the most effective strategies for addressing these areas. The main issues identified and addressed included the following:
Brush Creek MycoFiltration – Water samples from the property’s creek (Brush Creek) were sent to a local water testing lab prior to the RMC. The water was tested for a range of common chemical and biological contaminants and found to (thankfully) not contain concerning levels of pollutants. However, another concern to the water’s quality had previously been identified: in the rainy spring months heavy rain causes the water table of Brush Creek to rise significantly leading to topsoil erosion and a significant depositing of silt and debris into the creek water. This murky water subsequently reduces available oxygen, choking out aquatic life and reducing the resilience and diversity of riparian communities downstream. To mitigate this issue a series of filters of mushroom mycelium were installed in the creek (in the form of burlap sacks filled with oak wood chips inoculated with Stropharia rugosoannulata [aka SRA]) to capture silt and increase water purity. The upper portion of the property’s creek was scouted to identify sites that had access to shallow, slower moving sections of the water course where mycelium containers could be installed and easily observed, maintained, and replaced as needed. Two sites were identified.
Preparing bags of Stropharia rugosoannulata bulk spawn for MycoFiltration of silt
Site A was a preexisting natural dam built of fallen logs and branches. This area was an easy candidate for installation as it would readily retain the bags to be installed. In the coming months the landowner will observe the bags’ health and determine whether they are getting “plugged” with debris, at which point they will need to be replaced.
Site A of Brush Creek’s MycoFiltration installation
Site B was an overflow side channel in the water’s course that is contained in a short, shallow trench. This shady area is above the water table for most of the year, only filling with water in the rainy season. A series of SRA bags were installed in this channel and secured with branches and stakes of various sizes. In the coming months the bags and surrounding soil will become infused with this mushroom’s mycelium creating a productive mushroom bed. When the water raises next year, overflow from the creek will pass through this mushroom bed, filtering silt and debris as the mycelium is being hydrated (ultimately helping the bed produce more mushrooms). Another function of this mushroom bed is that it will serve to digest much of the property’s Reed Canary Grass. The landowner can simply throw this plant into Site B’s trench, feeding this edible mushroom to increase production while mitigating a common weed.
Site B of Brush Creek’s MycoFiltration installation
Post-Ag Field Regeneration – The land that hosted to 2014 RMC was a 20 acre parcel that had been heavily cultivated for 70 years with GM corn. While some portions of the property had been left to return to a prairie for 20 years, much of the property had only been out of production for 4 years. Due to years of heavy tillage and chemical input, the diversity in the soil communities of these areas were significantly depressed. These “post-ag” portions of the property were covered in a small number of dominant weeds, a sign of poor soil quality. Our goal was to begin repopulating the soil in these areas by inoculating test plots with beneficial microbes and fungi, thereby kickstarting the natural soil web cycles and eventually leading to greater soil health and increased nutrient availability.
Eight 2’x6′ plots were cleared and inoculated with various combinations of mycorrhizal fungi, compost tea, and biochar. The biochar was produced on-site and inoculated with fresh compost tea that followed standard and biodynamic compost tea practices. Compost tea breeds large quantities of beneficial aerobic microbes. The biochar performs several remediative functions while also serving as a “microbe hotel” where mycorrhizal fungi and other microbes can live. One bed was cleared but not inoculated to serve as a control.
Inoculating biochar with actively aerated compost tea
On the myco end of this installation, several plots were inoculated with mycorrhizal fungi that will help support the soil’s health in numerous ways. The ideal practice for this portion of the experiment would have been to harvest locally-adapted mycorrhizal spores from on-site and culture them in association with plants over a season to amplify their spore load for inoculation. As this would have needed to been done a year in advance, we settled on using a commercial product containing various ecto and endomycorrhizal species. All plots were seeded with a commercial cover crop blend.
Prior to treatment the plots hosted various combinations of the following species (spontaneous vegetation):
Annual and perennial herbaceous plants:
Native aster *
Stiff goldenrod *
Wild bergamot *
Reed canary grass
Box elder *
Red maple *
Red oak *
White oak *
Black walnut *
Wild cherry *
(* Indicates native species)
In the coming years, the landowner will observe the plots to determine which regenerates the most effectively to host a larger variety of plant species. It is our hypothesis that the plot inoculated with biochar, compost tea, and mycorrhizae will perform the best. Time will tell.
Automobile Engine Point Source Remediation – Not all means of integrating fungi for pollution mitigation need to be complicated or large-scale. For example, a simple “point-source” remediation installation initiated at the RMC involved placing a Pearl Oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus) woodchip bed below the landowner’s parking site. As the mycelium of this well-known remediative species myceliates the wood-based substrate in the coming months, it will also likely absorb and digest the oil and chemicals dripping off the car’s engine. This simple method of treating a common source of household pollution can be effectively installed in driveways around the world as this species and its relatives are quite common in most continents. Mushrooms that fruit from this bed should not be eaten however as they may harbor toxic elements.
Point-source remediation of automobile contaminants
Human Waste Disposal – The human “waste” stream produced over the course of the RMC was treated as a valuable resource. Several composting toilets (The Shiitakers) were installed around the property and the fecal and urine matter collected at these sites was placed in The Pilobolus Pile, a slow compost pile that will eventually turn this common “waste” stream into healthy compost. This pile was constructed with an abundance of sawdust to eliminate smell and the risk of disease.
Beyond the restorative installations, several functional mushroom beds were installed around the property as well:
Hot Compost Garden Giant Bed
– The landowner was interested in establishing a simple means for producing edible mushroom spawn that could be installed around the property in the coming years. Our go-to mushroom was easily Garden Giant
aka SRA) as this species is easy to grow on a wide range of substrates. In the property’s hoophouse, two 4′ tall hot compost
piles were built with wheat straw and cow manure. On top of these compost materials a perforated cardboard buffer was laid in a circular shape and a woodchip / SRA sawdust spawn sandwich was installed. In the coming months this mushroom bed will myceliate the woodchips up top and eventually travel into the cardboard below. Simultaneously, the compost will heat up and reach an internal temperature of around 140ºF for 6-8 weeks, effectively warming the SRA bed and extending the growing season as the mycelium establishes prior to the coming cold months of winter. As the compost eventually begins to cool, the SRA will migrate from the top layer of woodchips into the compost pile (SRA is a secondary decomposer that prefers partially digested substrates). The compost will ultimately become infused with this incredible garden mushroom’s mycelium. When the compost is laid around the land next spring, this companion mushroom will follow in tow to build top soil, channel nutrients and water in the environment, and support plant health as it establishes across the local landscape.
Stacking functions: King Stropharia mushroom bed on a hot compost pile
Stacking the Funk-tions: Elm Oysters on Reed Canary Grass – Two things were abundant on the property that piqued our cultivation function stacking interests. The edible and remediative Elm Oyster (Hypsizygus ulmarius) mushroom was found growing prodigiously on the property as was the common weed known as Reed Canary Grass (RCG), which we found dominating the old pasture on site. We decided to make use of the RCG (seeing it as an abundant local substrate) by inoculating it with the Elm Oyster, a vigorous species known for its ability to consume a wide variety of substrates. We harvested a basket of these local mushrooms and collected their spores to make a simple “spore slurry” inoculum. Simultaneously, the RCG was harvested and prepared for inoculation by means of fermentation. Once the grass was prepared, the spore slurry was applied by packing the straw in plastic containers and pouring the spore slurry evenly throughout the packing process. In the coming weeks, the mushroom spores will germinate and fuse, forming numerous distinct genetic strains that will develop into diverse mycelial networks to digest the RCG. As these numerous strains grow out, some will stand out in the vigor and tenacity. The strains that fruit most heavily can then be isolated by the landowner. Repeating this spore slurry process with these superior strains in subsequent trials will essentially “speed up evolution” leading to the development of a “super-strain” of the Elm Oyster that will fruit exceptionally well on this locally abundant substrate.
Hypsizygus ulmarius spore prints Preparing Reed Canary Grass for fermentation
The Oak Leaf – A simple, symbolic King Stropharia mushroom bed was installed in a depression in the land downhill from a culvert. Designed in the shape of an oak leaf, this bed was created to honor the dominant tree species on the land and to reflect the value of this wood type in mushroom cultivation. (The density and richness of oak has long been noted to be a superior wood for cultivation of several species such as Shiitake).
Hypsizygus ulmarius was found in abundance on the property
Spawning Mycelial Networks
While workshops and installations are the central feature of the Radical Mycology Convergences, there is another, perhaps even more important theme that runs throughout the weekend as well: community building. Knowing the difficulty that can come with studying mycology and mushroom cultivation, the RMC organizers worked intentionally throughout the weekend to help encourage the development of friendships and alliances amongst attendees that will extend beyond the 5 days of the gathering. By camping, cooking, eating, learning, and engaging in discussions together, participants were readily able to meet future cohorts and know that others shared their excitement (and confusion) around working with the fungal kingdom.
On the Sunday of the RMC, a break out discussion was held where participants gathered by region to brainstorm how the skills they learned at the RMC could be applied in their communities. By the end of the discussions, several new Radical Mycology groups had formed to take the skills of grassroots mycology back to their home towns and bioregions. Spawning mycelial networks of collaboration amongst attendees, the 3rd Radical Mycology Convergence has helped increase awareness around the fact that anyone can grow mushrooms for food, medicine, and the benefit of environmental resilience. And there is no better time to join this movement than now.
A big thank you goes out to everyone who presented, supported, sponsored, volunteered, threw down, or otherwise helped co-create this year’s Radical Mycology Convergence. This year’s RMC would not have been such a success without all of your input and collaboration. Thank you to Shawndra Miller for writing up two great reviews of the RMC (here and here) and to Jessie Robertson for his write up here.
See you all at the next RMC!
Mush love getting served up in the Kit-Chanterelle Sunday night’s barn dance