This Labor Day weekend, over 200 people from many countries and cultural backgrounds gathered in northern Washington State and spent 4 days sharing knowledge about the many uses of the fungal kingdom at the world’s first Radical Mycology Conference.
The fungal kingdom is the fifth and possibly least explored branch of the tree of life. As one of the youngest natural sciences, mycology (the study of fungi) has largely been kept to professionals and academics, however in recent years public interest in fungi has grown.
We consider the use of fungal species for environmental betterment as an extension of “radical” or “deep” ecology, which considers all beings as having an inherent value and interdependence.
Fungi are important to all living (and previously-living) things, and they play an especially vital role in the life cycles of plants. Fungi are responsible for the decomposition of all woody material, turning dead plant matter into fresh new soil so new plants can thrive. Also, certain fungi create complex networks of underground mycelium (that’s the white stuff you see when you pull back a decaying log) that serve to channel nutrients and water between plants, helping maintain the health of the ecosystem beyond the fungi’s immediate needs. Newer studies are showing that fungi make up a significant portion of the inner structure of plants and help the plant ward off parasites.
With so many ecological disasters occurring throughout the world, fungi have emerged as a powerful ally in the fight to save the planet from ecological collapse. In the last decade or so, mycologists have discovered that the same enzymes that fungi produce to digest their food can also be used to break down toxic chemicals and petroleum products as well as filter farm effluent from watersheds. Species have been discovered that digest plastics, disposable diapers, motor oil, DDT, and Agent Orange. In addition, fungi may be used to remove heavy metals from polluted soil. This new field of “mycoremediation” was a main topic of focus at the RMC.
Workshops also included cultivation methods, mycopermaculture (mushrooms in the garden), mycomedicinals, mushroom paper and dye making, and fungi and lichen identification. Professional mycologists from Oaxaca presented on enthnomycology and folks from the Amazon Mycorenewal Project spoke on their work to clean up oil spills in Ecuador using oyster mushrooms. One presenter spoke about their work with the Mushroom Development Foundation, which teaches Indian farmers to grow mushrooms from agricultural waste as a supplemental income and food source.
All this took place on a communal farm, and by the end of the convergence, we had put theory to practice by setting up 2 beds of King Stropharia mushrooms to help decompose the humanure produced at the farm. We also installed burlap sacks full of Blue Oyster mushrooms around the farm’s water source to help filter the water and prevent erosion to the surrounding hill side. In addition, a “mycelial burrito” of oyster spawn, cardboard and woodchips was established in the farm’s forest garden.
To join the Radical Mycology Network please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.radicalmycology.com.