Radical Mushrooms: Taking DIY Fungi Cultivation Global

Out in the Pacific Northwest, Radical Mycology, a collective of mushroom and fungal enthusiasts, has been sharing and spreading spores of knowledge on mushroom cultivation and use. Founded in 2006 by Peter McCoy and Maya Elson, this collaborative network has its origins in community organizing, environmental protection and social justice.

What started as McCoy's zine has spread, fungal-like, across the US through what the collective calls "Radical Mycology Convergences". McCoy describes a convergence as "a volunteer-run gathering that shares the knowledge and skills of working with fungi for personal, societal, and ecological health." The goals: teach people how to grow mushrooms as a food and medicine source, but also as an organic system for bioremediation, which is the process of regenerating, remediating, and renewing environments damaged by pollution.

Stinky Squid, Pseudocolus fusiformis

Stinky Squid, Pseudocolus fusiformis

A few months back, Konbini reported on the experimental design group Livin Studio's efforts to make mushrooms eat plastic. Well, in 2013, McCoy shot a video in which explained how to "trick" mushrooms into "eating" cigarette butts. He also champions the oyster mushroom as the "poster child" for Radical Mycology's efforts. The oyster can be cultivated as a nutritious, cholesterol-fighting food source, but can also be used to capture petroleum products and chemicals in areas with water runoff. These are just a few of the tips and tricks learned through Radical Mycology blog posts, videos and workshops.

In late 2014, McCoy, Elson and others held the Radical Mycology Convergence (RMC) in Orangeville, Illinois. On the private homestead of bioremediation expert Nance Klehm, RMC 2014 featured over 50 mycology discussions and workshops, as well as eight edible and experimental remediation installations (more on that below).

Radical Mycology then took the show on the road for a three-month North American tour, from Telluride, Colorado and New Orleans to Asheville, North Carolina and Philadelphia, and many other places in between. Trips were also made outside of the U.S., with the Radical Mycology mushroom evangelists stopping in both Montreal and Toronto, where they found people more than willing to learn.

However, McCoy told Konbini that Radical Mycology's stop in Detroit, where they teamed with Earthworks Urban Farm, was particularly rewarding. "The most memorable places were those that we did installations at, whether edible or remediative," McCoy said. "Teaching the people in Detroit how to grow mushrooms off their urban farm waste was a pretty great moment."

"[It] was their first mushroom workshop in their 20-year history (it's been a soup kitchen for almost 100 years)," McCoy said. "I don't think any of the people knew anything about mushrooms other than portobellos and buttons. They had never heard of the many garden and medicinal mushrooms we covered. And they had no idea they could grow another crop (mushrooms) on their farm waste."

People really want this info and it gave us the fuel to go deeper and keep doing what we are doing.

Of particular interest to Earthworks Urban Farm, McCoy explained, was the possibility of getting more "economic return" for their work. While the farm had been interested in mushroom cultivation before, they didn't known where to start. As noted, Earthworks' annual crop wastes were, as Radical Mycology told them, a great place to start.

"It was a very different vibe [in Detroit] from the other stops where the majority of the other crowds seemed to have access to lots of information and resources," McCoy said. "We were really happy to bring something helpful and often difficult to access to the people at Earthworks."

"That was one of the stops where I personally felt like we were really reaching people who could heavily benefit from the skills and knowledge we had to share," he added. "It was rad."

Detroit's Earthworks urban farmers learning how to make mushrooms from crop waste.

Detroit's Earthworks urban farmers learning how to make mushrooms from crop waste.

McCoy called the tour a major labor of love. They tried hitting a variety of demographics, most of whom were unfamiliar with fungi. So, they had to plan which workshop or installation idea would work best for each city's organization or group.

Among various projects, Radical Mycology installed a dual-species septic filtration system in In Amherst, Massachusetts, and the King Stropharia ("garden giant") mother bed installation Urban Garden Resiliency Oasis (UGRO) in West Atlanta, which will provide mushroom spawn to gardeners throughout the neighborhood. These and other efforts proved to McCoy that the Radical Mycology effort is gaining traction.

"There is definitely a rising interest in the topic across the country," McCoy said. "I'm not exaggerating in the [blog post] when I talk about how many of the rooms were packed or with standing room only. People really want this info and it gave us the fuel to go deeper and keep doing what we are doing."

Radical Mycology see such a validation of their efforts that they're producing a video series on cultivation and identification, and planning to take the tour international in 2015.

"The international tour isn't set yet but is going to happen," McCoy said. "Likely the winter of 2015/2016. The rough plan is six months going from west to east Europe, through the Middle East, then coming back around through North Africa."

Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) Credit: Willoughby Arevalo

Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) Credit: Willoughby Arevalo

McCoy isn't exactly sure what to expect in the Middle East. He did say that he knows cultivators in Turkey, where there is interest but a lack of knowledge.

"I just met a farmer from Saudi Arabia who is working with settled Bedouin to grow food in the desert and they get mushrooms when it rains every two years," McCoy said. "I think there are ways to get them growing more frequently but nobody has ever tried. It will ultimately rely on efficient water harvesting systems, building the proper microclimate, and working with the right species. Also, you can grow just the mycelium for food and medicine indoors and that's easy and not dependent on high humidity."

In the meantime, look for McCoy's Radical Mycology book this summer. He promises it will be a big one. No word yet on whether it will feature instructions for finding psilocybin "magic" mushrooms.

Check out more photos from Radical Mycology's mushroom tour below. 

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King Stropharia mother patch installation at UGRO

King Stropharia mother patch installation at UGRO

5th Kingdom Mushrooms

5th Kingdom Mushrooms