This October, Mara Penfil from the Radical Mycology Collective will be taking part in a 3-day Women’s Mushroom retreat as a part of the Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference. This unique event will bring together women from across the country to talk and learn about fungi in an intimate and protected setting. Learn more about the event here and check out the description below.
Silently shaping the soil beneath our feet, fungi are key players in the health of Earth and trajectory of human culture around the globe. Still, we find ourselves in a time where the study of fungi is considered to be a neglected megascience, their mycelium, a mystery. It is our goal to help modern women connect with the roles and wisdom of our female ancestors who always maintained and shared their visceral understanding of the Fungal Queendom.
This weekend-long, women’s retreat will focus on understanding fungi as the Grandmothers of our ecosystems. Workshops will be offered at the beginner through advanced levels, and include topics in wild mushroom skills, fungal ecology, fungi and human health, and ethnomycology. This is a place to share knowledge and get comfortable with using our mycological skills in a supportive, fungal community!
Teachers will include Eugenia Bone, Sue Van Hook, Cornelia Cho, Alanna Burns, Andi Bruce, Olga Tzogas, Erica Gunnison, Danielle Stevenson, Mara Fae Penfil, Nicole McCalpin and more!
With the end of year we wish to say our thanks for the many highlights of the past 12 months. This year was a big one for Radical Mycology. February saw the birth of the book Radical Mycology by Peter McCoy and April followed up with a few videos to help condense key points from the text—two efforts we hope will excel the growth of myco-literacy currently developing around the world. Following on the book’s many positive responses, Peter took the book on tour across the U.S. during the summer and fall, making over 45 stops at a range of independent books stores, non-profits, community gardens, infoshops, galleries, art archives, and festivals.
(Left) Peter at Interference Archive, a Brooklyn-based depository for the art of social movements.
(Right) Installing a mushroom garden in Washington, D.C. as part of a 20-hour
Mushroom Cultivation & Application Course.
As the mushroom season took its turn of the year, October marked our fourth and most successful Radical Mycology Convergence, this time in Wingdale, NY. Despite being the first time the event made its way to the East coast, over 400 people were in attendance, making this year’s RMC the largest to date. As with every prior RMCs, all who came camped together, learned together, worked together, and, in a myriad of ways, fostered a unique space to share their connection to the lands we inhabit as well as to the fifth kingdom that fills their innumerable niches and recesses.
(Left) Volunteers help prepare the land at Fertile Substrate, a pre-RMC work-n-learn party.
(Right) Nance Klehm on Reading the Landscape for patterns of disturbance at the 2016 RMC.
The land hosting the RMC was also an amazing backdrop to the event. Set on a 120-acre homestead bordering the Appalachian Trail and three hills of mushroom-rich mixed forests, attendees found fungi poppin’ all weekend. Maitake, Chicken of the Woods, and various Laccaria and edible Boletus species were well represented, as were an array of conks, lichens, and resupinate fungi.
Morning circle at the RMC (Credit: Michael Place).
On the info front, this year’s RMC took the myco knowledge offered to a whole other level. As impromptu forays filled the woods, the dense schedule offered some pretty killer workshops and discussions, including many mycoremediation and mushroom cultivation focused talks. In between, new friendships were forged among the many passionate and incredibly knowledgeable mycophiles, as demonstrated at the steadily laughter- and rap-filled talent show on Saturday night. And at night massive bonfires raged late, filling the air with warmth, kinship, and stories of epic fungi recently found or long since gone.
Dinner crew on duty. Philip shares his passion in the Amadou.
On the final day, as with all RMCs, we closed by working to enrich the land with various fungal partnerships and earth repair practices. Erosion-mitigating and nutrient load-reducing plants were planted along sensitive waterways, while various mushroom gardens were installed across the property.
Installing a four-species mushroom garden on the final day of the RMC.
As the year winds down, the Radical Mycology Collective is taking some time to reflect as we proceed into an ever-brighter fungal future. Next year is sure to bring some big changes and new projects to the fore for us. But for now, we wish to give our deepest gratitude to all those who made this year one of our most inspirational yet.
THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU
A HUGE thank you goes out to everyone that helped organize, show up, throw down, support, donate, cook, serve, share, and grow with us and the Radical Mycology movement this year. A special HUGE HUGE thank you goes to this year’s presenters: Alanna Burns, Zaac Chaves, Cornelia Cho, Willie Crosby, Samuel David, Steve Gabriel, Alexander Jones, Erwin Karl, Fern Katz, Scott Kellogg, Nance Klehm, Elli Mazeres, John Michelotti, Lupo Passero, William Padilla-Brown, Jason Scott, Danielle Stevenson, Olga Tzogas, Chris Wright, Sue Van Hook, Roo Vandegrift, and Marina Zurkow, as well as to the amazing folks in the Seeds of Peace Collective, who did all the cooking at the RMC this year.
In return, and as a belated Solstice gift to everyone, we’ve made a playlist of the workshop videos from the 2014 RMC—a taste of the videos we have in the editing queue from this year’s RMC.
Enjoy and mush love,
The RM Collective
The schedule for the 2016 Radical Mycology Convergence has been announced! This year the Convergence is leveling up in a number of ways. For the first time we are on the East Coast. We are going a full 5 days instead of 4. And on the Saturday night of the Convergence we will be hosting an Myco Art Gallery with international submissions (the Gallery is still open for submissions here).
The confirmed workshops for this year’s RMC are right in line with these evolutionary leaps. There are some incredible myco- and bioremediation talks, a range of ethnomycological presentations, and some amazing fungal ecology talks.
Want to help the RMC?
We rely on support from attendees to make the RMC a success. You can help add to this grassroots effort in a variety of ways. Consider registering to volunteer here. Or join the Pre-RMC work party, Fertile Substrate, here. Or simply bring some food or raffle item donations. Every hyphal addition to our support web helps this event’s network grow deeper and stronger. Whatever you can do to add to this underground effort is greatly appreciated!
This October, join hundreds of mycophiles, artists, and Earth activists for a unique 5-day, volunteer-run gathering to learn how to work with fungi to support your community and environment.
The Radical Mycology Convergence (RMC) is a weekend long event consisting of workshops, presentations, and various mycoremediation installations. Beyond the skills shared, the RMC also works to build a community among like-minded mycophiles (aka mushroom lovers) and community-based Earth healers to collaborate on remediation and restoration projects during and after the RMC.
The RMC organizers feel strongly that these skills need to be shared and we want to make information on the fungi and their unique healing abilities accessible and tangible for as many people as possible. By creating an encouraging and welcoming space we hope to “be-mushroom” all who attend in an effort to bring about greater planetary health.
We would like to invite anyone interested in participating in this event to come and learn, help out, or teach! The RMC is family friendly, non-discriminatory, and is donation-based to provide open access to people of all backgrounds.
For more information visit RadicalMycologyConvergence.com.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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):
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.
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:
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.
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).
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
Evan Shoepke at Punk Rock Permaculture recently did an interview with Peter from the Radical Mycology collective about the ways that working with the fungal kingdom can influence and inform the work of effective biomimicry and permaculture design. Check out the interview below and then stop by Evan’s site to check out the wealth of DIY & low-cost permaculture resources that he provides.
Plastic. Scourge of the sea and persistent terror of the land. Toxic soup emitter and immitigable plague of highway shoulders and shopping aisles. This 100 year old creation has been one of the greatest contributors to both the epic wave of industrial growth that swept the globe in the last century as well as the ripples of pollution that follow in its wake. Now reigning as our planet’s number one source of pollution, plastic has become a threat to the health of nearly all biological systems on Earth. More than 140 million tons of plastic were manufactured worldwide in 2001 alone (Cosgrove et al 2007), much of that likely to end up in the trash or on the side of the road. Luckily, though, the fungi just might be able to do something about this.
A “miracle” of modern science, plastic has become ubiquitous throughout the world, acting as a symbol of the cancerous throw-away culture of the West and its increasingly narrow minded foresight into the fate of coming generations. Often designed for one-time use, plastics are readily discarded to sit for unknown years as they slowly degrade and release hazardous chemicals into the soil and groundwater.
But what is plastic, really? On the microscopic level, plastics are a type of polymer, or chain of repeating smaller units (known as monomers) that are chemically bonded via an industrial process. One of the two main bonding processes, known as an addition synthesis, results in the petroleum based hydrocarbons that make up most plastics are joined to form long chains of very strong chemical bonds (known as carbon-carbon bonds). The other process, known as condensation synthesis, requires a hydrogen atom from one monomer and a hydroxyl group from another join together, thus forming a water molecule and leaving the monomers joined by a peptide or ester bond.
Since the first plastic synthesis process was patented in 1909, plastics have become increasingly common in industrial applications. Compared to the wood, metal, and glass objects they replaced, plastics were quickly realized to be inexpensive, highly moldable, resistant to deterioration, and uniform in output. While these advantages have led to plastics becoming part a common part of our lives, these same properties have also been the cause of severe ecological and waste management problems globally.
As noted above, plastics persist in the environment for unknown amounts of time. Certain types are estimated to remain intact for at least several thousand of years. This problem now finds us with an estimated 20-30% (by volume) of municipal solid waste being taken up by plastics in landfill sites worldwide (Ishigaki et al 2003). As these plastics persist, they leach horrible byproducts such as BPA (a well known carcinogen and endocrine disruptor) into surrounding groundwater and soils. Meanwhile, the water repelling nature of some plastics has been reported to simultaneously attract toxins, concentrate them, and thereby form reservoirs of toxic chemicals in their immediate environment (Roy et. Al. 2011).
One of the greatest unseen threats that plastics present outside of the landfill is their accumulation in, and subsequent toxification of, the oceans. Each of the world’s oceans have vast areas where, due to the interaction and interference of cross-currents, sea water tends to stagnate and spiral in one place instead of circling the globe. It is in these areas, known as gyres, that plastic pieces from around the planet come to accumulate in “trash islands.” The most famous, and largest, of these is the Great Pacific Gyre (GPG), which is located in the northern Pacific Ocean and is estimated to cover a surface area the size of the state of Texas while standing at a depth of 30 feet.
As plastics accumulate in these gyres, the magnitude of their impact is often not fully realized as much of the waste is not visible from the air. Instead, the effects of tidal forces and the intense UV radiation from the sun result in the plastics being perpetually broken down in to smaller and smaller pieces. These gyres become a literal plastic soup, filled with toxic plastic residue and particles. When fish swim through this cesspool, they often confuse the plastic fragments for plankton, a mistake that severely disrupts marine food webs down the line (Thompson et al, 2004). Sea turtles end up eating plastic bags thinking they are jellyfish only to suffocate, while albatross birds feed their babies brightly colored lids that they confuse for fish, resulting in huge fatalities to their population.
Recycling is often considered the best option for dealing with the plastics problem, but it doesn’t represent a complete solution. Eight percent of plastics are called thermosets, which simply means that they can’t be remolded or recycled (Zheng & Yanful, 2005). The other main type of plastics, thermoplastics, that can potentially be recycled, require careful sorting (a labor and cost intensive process most governments can’t, or won’t, afford to pay) while simultaneously resulting in an inferior plastic with lower economic value. Even so called “biodegrabale” plastics are not all they are cracked up to be. Though the chemical structure of these biodegradable plastics has been modified to supposedly help increase the speed of decomposition, some tests have failed to prove how well this actually plays out in the landfill. Real solutions to the plastic problem need to be investigated and improved upon.
Not surprising to fans of the Radical Mycology movement (we hope) is the notion that fungi just might provide the solution. Indeed, fungi (and to a lesser degree supporting bacteria) have been known to degrade plastic since the material was first manufactured over 100 years ago. This realization came about during endurance tests performed on plastics during its early years as manufacturers sought to prove the utility of their product over the metal and wood it was to replace. One such test involved simply burying pieces of plastic in the ground and seeing what would happen. Low and behold, when they dug the pieces up a year or two later, the experimenters found microscopic organisms digesting the plastic. The basic form of this test has been repeated around the world numerous times in the decades since, each with test finding similar results (i.e. many ground dwelling species of fungi can decrease the integrity of plastics). The most common ways to prove this deterioration is through quantified changes in coloration or tensile strength of the plastics. In some experiments, scientists would even go a step further by taking the uncovered plastic pieces, isolating the individual bacteria and fungi found growing on them, and then testing each organism for its individual degradation ability. While this research has discovered several species and genera well suited to this task (one study even confirming that it was the fungi, not the bacteria, that were the main contributors to this process), little progress has been made toward developing a method applicable outside the lab, let alone in the landfill.
The way that fungi are able to break down such a foreign substance as plastic is through the utilization of an incredible set of unique enzymes. These enzymes are typically used by the fungi to break down the organic material of the world to create a food sources that that the fungi can then metabolize. The decomposing fungi (known as saprotrophs) excrete powerful enzymes that can break the long, complex molecules of plant matter (e.g. cellulose and lignin) into simple sugars while simultaneously recycling forest nutrients to create fresh soil from dead matter. In recent years, these same fungi (via the enzymes they produce) have been found to breakdown other complex molecules created by modern industry. For example, certain fungal species can degrade such nasty substances as motor oil, diesel, herbicides, pesticides, DDT, TNT, PAHs, and dioxins (Stamets, 2005).
Similar to how a fly procures its food, fungi excrete these enzymes outside of themselves on to this organic material, digesting their food externally before absorbing (or injesting) it. For our problem at hand, this extra-cellular form of digestion can be taken advantage of by cultivating the plastic eating fungi under controlled conditions and then isolating their enzymes en masse. These liquid enzymes could then be applied to waste plastic directly to help begin the process of remediation on a large scale (Russell et al 6081). While this might sound a bit far fetched, it is essentially the way in which most citric acid is produced for the food industry.
In fact, students from Yale have recently done just this process while applying a novel kind of fungus to an old kind of plastic. What makes the Yale research particularly exciting is that instead of focusing on ground dwelling fungi, the team at Yale took the novel approach of using an endophytic (plant inhabiting) fungus. This type of fungi lives inside of plants (literally between the plant’s cell walls), cohabitating with the plants for largely unknown reasons. While the endophytes are potentially one of the most diverse categories of fungi (with any given plant possibly containing hundreds of species of them), they are at the same time one of the least studied branches in the fungal kingdom. Minimal work has been put into the search for the use of endophytes in fungal remediation so when the Yale team applied their endophyte (Pestalotiopsis microspora, procured from a plant in the Amazon jungle) to polyester polyurethane, a type of plastic commonly used for textiles, their positive results were astonishing for several reasons. Not only could the endophyte they used survive off the plastic as its only carbon (i.e. food) source, but it could this do both in the presence and absence of oxygen! This important discovery opens up a whole new world to the prospects of fungal decomposition as unknown numbers of endophytes exist in the world, many of which may very well hold similar capabilities. The ability for this fungus to survive without air is also notable as one of the bigger roadblocks to real-world application of fungal plastic degradation has been the fact that many of ground dwelling fungi would not survive in anaerobic areas such as landfills.
Crucial to the advancement of this work will be the ability of researchers to acquire more powerful (and locally derived) species of fungi. One study dealing with the fungal degradation of PHB, a thermoplastic polyester, revealed an interesting, and productive, approach to searching for possible candidates. The study suggested that by focusing on species that have become de-lichenized (i.e. fungi whose ancestors were once associated within lichens but are now free-living). Many such species still produce unique chemical compounds that were developed to degrade rock and other materials during the lichenized stage of their ancestry. The thought that follows then is that these same chemicals might also be able to degrade plastics. Focusing on genera such as Penicillium, Aspergillus, and other lichen-associated fungal species, may result in a more efficient search for better plastic degraders.
As a final thought on the possibilities presented here, it should be noted that in all these situations the best result will likely come from an attempt at the reproduction of the natural degradation process (a.k.a. biomimicry) and the use of biological succession. Succession is the change of species in an ecological community over time. One example of this comes with the stages of primary, secondary, and tertiary fungi that decompose the organic matter of the world’s forests. If the decomposition of a redwood is most effective when processed through fungal succession, it makes sense that a similar process would be useful with plastics. In fact, one study by Ruth Kavelman and Bryce Kendrick in 1978 tested this theory against poly-epsilon caprolactone and ended with positive results. Ultimately, it will likely take such a considerate approach, one that that reflects and respects the complexity of nature, to really begin dealing with the plastics problem, rather than a reductionist, white-pill tactic.
It is no longer easy to ignore the plague of plastics on our planet. While reducing needless consumption and emphasizing more recycling leads in the direction of greater awareness, the fact remains that unless somethig tangible is done about it, a century’s worth of plastic bottles and packaging will lie buried and leaching for thousands of years to come. Yet while the use of fungi to be a potentail way out of this disaster scenario is awe inspiring, we must not let it slip into an easy excuse to continue with our wasteful culture as normal. Without a real reduction in the horrible practices of extraction and manufacturing that lead up to the production of plastics, their removal with fungi will only become another “green” way to keep sailing this Titanic in the dark as if nothing could go wrong. Lets us not forget to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. To which we would add a fourth step: Remediate.
Ultimately, however, without a technology developed to make the use of these fungi against plastics tangible and applicable, this research is for nothing. When we see that in a 100 years of study in to this matter has made limited advancement, that funding is more and more limited for fungal remedaiton work, and that often the powers that be seemingly choose to not invest in real solutions, it might very well come down to the amateur mycologist to explore these possibilities and come up with solutions themself (just as this Canadian high school student did several years ago). The future is in our hands so let’s get them in the dirt!
Cosgrove, Lee, Paula McGeechan, Geoff Robson, Pauline Handley. 2007.
Deacon, Jim. 2005.
Ishigaki, T., W. Sugano, A. Nakanishi, M. Tateda, M. Ike, M. Fujita. 2004.
Priyanka, Nayak and Tiwari Archana. 2011.
Seneviratne, G., Tennakoon, N.S., M.L.M.A.W. Weerasekara, K.A. Nandasena. 2006. :
Stamets, Paul. 2005. g.
The Mycelial Network Collective is excited to officially announce plans for the 2nd ever Radical Mycology Convergence (RMC) and we want you to come! If you haven´t heard of the RMC before, you can read about first one (in 2011) at the link at the bottom of this email. Following up on the success of last year´s RMC we have hopes to expand the event this year to include even more events and we want you to participate!
Why: Because these skills need to get shared! We want to make information on fungi and their helaing powers accessible and tangible for as many people as possible without making it overly-heady or technical. By creating an encouraging space we hope to “bemushroom” all who attend.
Who: The Mycelial Network Collective, organizers of the RMC, would like to cordially invite anyone interested in participating in this event to come and learn, help out, or teach!
We are also asking for as much feedback from people to help us build upon the success of the first RMC. If you can, please take the time to fill out the short interest survey linked below. It will greatly help guide our planning process and to make this year´s RMC as successful as the last.
September 14, 2011
Over 200 people gathered in northern Washington state this past Labor Day weekend to learn about the many uses of the fungal kingdom at the world’s first Radical Mycology Convergence. For four days, people gathered from several countries and various cultural backgrounds to teach and learn together about mycoremediation, the use of fungi as a tool to help combat mass pollution and ecological degradation. In an age when so many human caused disasters are occurring throughout the world, the fungi are beginning to be seen as a strong option for tackling some of these great problems long thought impossible to solve.
WHY RADICAL MYCOLOGY?
Access to mycological information is not easy. With a cultural view that fears fungi, a schooling system that undervalues them, and only a small number of courses on advanced mycology worldwide, it is easy to see why the fifth kingdom is so disregarded and misunderstood. As one of the youngest natural sciences, mycology (the study of fungi) has largely been kept in the hands of professionals since its development with much of the official work focusing simply on taxonomy and species edibility/toxicity. However, in the last few decades (and really just the last few years) the greater fungi have started to gain more acceptance and familiarity to those outside of academia as their uses beyond the dinner plate are starting to be realized.
It is surprising to note that most people do not realize that fungi are not only on, in and a part of all living (and once-living) things but that they play an extremely important role in the life cycle of plants as well. Acting like stewards of the forest, certain fungi create complex networks of “mycelium” (that white stuff you see when you pull back a decaying log) underground that serve to channel nutrients and water between plants and to help maintain the health of entire ecosystems. The fungi are also responsible for the decomposition of all woody material, turning dead plant matter in to fresh soil for new plants to thrive in. Without the fungi the world would be piled high in dead trees with no new ones growing.
In the last decade or so, mycologists have discovered that the same enzymes that fungi naturally produce to digest their food can also be used to break down toxic pollutants and petroleum products. Species have been discovered that can digest plastics, disposable diapers, motor oil, DDT, and Agent Orange as well as sequester and concentrate heavy metals out of polluted soil for later disposal. This emerging field of “mycoremediation” has only barely gained a foundation from which to grow on as in-depth research and experimentation in the last few years has been scant at best and suppressed at worst. As such a powerful ally in the fight to save the planet before ecological collapse, the fungi are now more worthy of investigation than ever before*. Thus, the RMC was formed to foster a community of people interested in developing and implementing mycoremediative techniques to provide a resource for peer learning and encouragement.
Through the use of fungi to enact change, we are attempting to radically challenge assumptions about the importance of the fungal kingdom in an effort to help shift our relationship to the Earth toward greater harmony.
WHY A CONVERGENCE?
The intent of the organizers of the RMC in forming the event was three fold: 1) To share mycological information in an accessible manner using the simplest techniques and a minimal amount of equipment 2) To promote the use of mycoremediation techniques & 3) To build an all-inclusive & non-hierarchical network of amateur & professional mycologists. We feel we were quite successful in our efforts to a degree beyond any expectations.
Despite a full schedule all weekend, the RMC went off without a hitch. Workshops included sterile and non-sterile cultivation methods, mycopermaculture/mushrooms in the garden, mycomedicinals, mushroom paper and dye making, and fungi and lichen identification. There were also presentations on ethnomycology in Mexico by professional mycologists from Baja California. Folks from the Amazon Mycorenewal Project spoke on their work to clean up oil spills in Ecuador using oyster mushrooms. And a representative from the Mushroom Development Foundation spoke to their work teaching Indian farmers to grow mushrooms from agricultural waste. All this took place on a communal farm with nightly group fires, a raging talent show and raffle, and great swimming holes. Add in a general sense of commonality and you get an inspiring weekend of learning and building a community where one had not existed before.
Many presenters demonstrated techniques they had developed on their own to reduce the use of fossil fuels and expensive equipment from cultivating mushrooms. James from Amateur Mycology in Colorado stated that he hadn’t thrown away a piece of paper for 2 years as he was turning it all into mushrooms. James also spoke of successes in using mushroom beds as living mulch in a greenhouse to increase plant yields. Another workshop demonstrated tissue culturing in open air using only hydrogen peroxide and alcohol to sterilize your equipment. A big take away message from the weekend was that there is so much yet to be discovered about mycology–and so few people doing it–that it will take the work of amateurs to increase understanding.
As a culmination to the weekend, we implemented 2 small remediation projects at the host farm to put theory to practice. We set up 2 beds of King Stropharia mushrooms to help decompose the humanure produced at the farm. We also installed various burlap sacks inoculated with Blue Oyster mushrooms around the farm’s spring to help filter the water or possible runoff from a nearby road as well as prevent erosion to the surrounding hill side.
Through the RMC we created an environment that encouraged skill and knowledge sharing by embracing diversity and working toward the greater goal of a healthier planet and way of life. With the advances being made over the last few years, working with the fungi has never been easier than now, at a time when their capabilities are of greatest import. This information deserves to be in the hands of those who want it and the Radical Mycology Convergence was one step among several toward reaching that goal.
On the final day of the convergence an open discussion was held to reflect on the RMC and to discuss ideas for future gatherings as well as how folks plan to implement this information in their local communities. The consensus showed that those present were excited to begin the process of developing a web-based forum or wiki to enable cultivators and experimenters to share techniques and experiences in relation to low-tech cultivation and remediation work. Similarly, free publications will be produced that teach these techniques and demonstrate case studies of the work people are doing with fungi. Also, a decentralized formal network will be created of groups of people doing this work so as to stay connected, organize future/regional RMCs, and to collaborate as desired.
A truly unique event, the first Radical Mycology Convergence was a huge success drawing in all types of people to live and learn together. The RMC demonstrated the power of a shared concern for the future of the planet to overcome personal differences in political or worldviews and the need to embrace novel ideas for tackling some of the world’s problems. We found that out of their backyards and garages, people are developing novel ways to work with the fungi to reduce their waste streams, filter their water, produce food and potent medicines easily, as well as work to clean up their local landbases thru remediation work.
The meme of radical mycology is only just developing. Time will tell how common this information and these techniques will become in the future. For now we invite those interested in learning more to follow the links and articles at http://www.radicalmycology.com.
The Radical Mycology Convergence organizers
* This is not to say this information addresses the problem of eliminating the manufacturing of these products. Rather it provides a way to actually deal with existing problems alongside efforts to stop their proliferation.