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mushroom hunting, cultivation, mycoremediation, and nature journalism
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Edible Fungi Interview with Joe (mushroomjoe)
How did you get into foraging for mushrooms?
I grew up in Southern California where as a whole people are generally both misinformed and afraid of mushrooms. I like to believe I’m fairly open to uncommon ideas, so I didn’t want to disregard mushrooms just because my culture shunned them. I was especially turned on to them when a friend introduced me to the lectures of Terence McKenna, who often used the topic of mushrooms as his focus.
A few incidents involving mushrooms early in my childhood stand out. The first occurred when I was in diapers frolicking in my family’s backyard lawn, admiring a little white object projecting from the soil. My father came over, sprawled on his stomach, and picked up the little white object. He carefully explained to me that it was something I should never put in my mouth. For all I know, that mushroom could have been a lovely Marasmius or a baby Agaricus, but because he was clueless of its identity, he assumed it was harmful. Still today I think that’s a healthy stance. He was right — better safe than sorry! And today I run with that same advice: if you don’t know what it is, don’t risk your body’s health. My dad’s an intelligent guy, so he obviously understood that perspective at the time. Two decades passed before I finally put a wild mushroom in my mouth.
My father also loved watching episodes of Huell Howser’s “California’s Gold.” During his shows, Huell walked around with a microphone and interviewed people concerning that show’s topic. Huell was a benevolent man who had an endless curiosity for all things, without discrimination. One episode that especially caught my attention was about the Los Angeles Mycological Society’s Wild Mushroom Fair. In it, Huell walked around and talked to all the interesting and zany characters who converged to display their affection for mushrooms. “Wow!” I thought, “A whole group of people who love mushrooms?” That was such an odd yet interesting thing to me, that people cared enough about mushrooms to gather and discuss them.
The final incident was a story my dad told me around the time I was leaving for college. The story was about an extended family member, of German origin. My dad explained that while this relative was visiting the family he went into the woods and foraged a great number of mushrooms. Upon returning with the mushrooms, he laid them on a table and explained which ones were edible and which ones were not. My dad shared with me how miraculous he thought that was and how we Southern Californians have absolutely no understanding of these wild things.
I was intrigued by this story. I figured if someone out there knew how to both find and identify mushrooms, then the information to do so is available and that in time I too could learn. Since I was generally broke, the idea of eating wild foods that are nutritious and free — not costing a single dime — was appealing. That story was the beginning of a shift in my mind toward a desire to return to nature. This was also the same time the “organic” movement was catching steam. But “organic” only mimics what already occurs in nature. Nothing is more “organic” than wild food. I realized, too, that there was an extremely long period of our history as humans during which we depended solely on wild foods. Foraging and eating wild mushrooms is homage to our ancestry.
While I lived in Santa Barbara my buddy and I would go on long bike rides. We once biked through a forest that seasonally housed thousands of migrating butterflies. On the ground along a tight path in the forest I spied a blue-and-magenta-capped mushroom. It was one of the most miraculous and colorful objects I’ve ever spied in nature. I picked it up and when I turned it over was surprised to find a bright yellow porous underside. We were mesmerized — it was nearly as colorful as a rainbow! At the time I had no idea what its identity was, but I now realize it was some Bolete. It was the first mushroom to really capture my attention enough to want to foster and learn more about it.
My buddy and I took the mushroom back to our disheveled college bachelor pad and devised a method to cultivate it. We knew nothing about mushrooms or their lifecycle. We assumed, based on myths, that mushrooms have certain preferences we should appeal to, such as for dark areas and soil. We also assumed it grew like a plant, and that we could transplant it and expect it to grow. Since we didn’t have any unused planting pots lying around the apartment, the only available empty vessel we could find was a paper Dixie cup once used to hold vodka-spiked jello. We packed the Dixie cup full of wet soil and drove the mushroom into it until the cup could stand on its own. We wanted to house it in a dark area where our other rambunctious roommates wouldn’t find it, so chose to leave it in the seldom-used cabinet above our refrigerator, which required stretching on tippy-toes to access.
Time went on, and because of homework, parties, and biking, we generally forgot about the mushroom we were cultivating. At one point while my buddy and I were telling jokes in the kitchen, we remembered to check the status of our growing mushroom. I opened the cabinet, stretched my arms, and slapped around inside. I landed on the Dixie cup, but didn’t feel the mushroom. Flies buzzed out from the cabinet. As I pulled the Dixie cup down, dozens of maggots crawled from the rotting mess onto my hand! What remained of the mushroom stank. That was my first lesson with mushrooms.
Years later I moved to San Diego for work. I wanted to learn more about mushrooms, but was worried I wouldn’t find any in the drier climate. Once in awhile I found roadside mushrooms, but had no idea how to identify them. I searched “mycology” and “San Diego” and discovered the San Diego Mycological Society! After a couple months frequenting the meetings, a dozen or so of us from the society went on a foray in January with Daniel Winkler (of mushroaming.com) in the mountains east of San Diego. Daniel was visiting the mycological society to discuss his studies in Tibet concerning the natives who forage for a medicinal mushroom, Cordyceps, that grow from the body of caterpillars.
The dozen or so of us foraging that day found a true bounty of mushrooms! The mushrooms filled the span of an entire table! Of course, the jovial Daniel Winkler found the most delicious and highest quality ones. He glowed over his basket of Blewits, Lepista nuda, and an oak-loving Bolete, Boletus dryophilus. I was lured by the purple luster of the Blewit and mentioned to him I had never tried one before. He was kind enough to give me a few for dinner that night. That was the first wild mushroom I ever ate.
What is your most fond foraging experience?
Returning to nature to forage is always a relaxing experience. Each foray has its own distinct character, based on the weather, the people I’m with, and whatever’s on my mind.
I think any situation where I find a mushroom for the first time is a fond experience. I can recall every experience in which I came across a species new to me. One experience in which I found three substantial species comes to mind.
After the Telluride Mushroom Festival of 2011, my buddy Davey and I drove north through Colorado to reunite with friends in Fort Collins. Along the way we stopped in a National Forest at the suggestion of some participants of the festival. We embarked on an absolutely beautiful Rocky Mountain day. We intentionally split up to find as many mushrooms as possible. The only vessel I brought with me was a few brown paper lunch bags.
At first I found bounteous patches of Shrimp Russula, Russula xerampelina. During the festival, Gary Lincoff shared a story that during one of the mushroom festivals the cooks made a huge batch of shrimp russula stew. Someone accidentally added a similar looking Russula (likely Rosey Russula or Emetic Russula) to the batch. Due to the revoltingly intense bitterness of that imposter mushroom, they had to throw out the whole batch. After hearing that story, I wanted to make sure every mushroom I picked was the proper one, so I ID’ed each one on the spot. I scratched each stem to observe an olive-colored reaction and deeply sniffed the crushed gills for hints of shrimp.
After harvesting a considerable amount, I climbed, climbed, climbed the mountain, desperately in search of the elusive Colorado gold, the Chanterelle. We had heard they prefer flatter areas covered in moss, again possibly a clue, possibly a myth. I happened upon a brilliant green area that looked like a scene from a fairy-tale. Sun shined in a perfect pillar onto the opening, and upon it were tiny golden Chanterelles. Now, looking back, I realize the characteristics of summer chanterelles in Colorado are far different from the ones I found in the Olympic National Park in Washington. These Colorado Chanterelles were much smaller, drier and tougher compared to the larger, wetter and more trumpeted variety that grow in the Pacific Northwest. Although I’d admired hundreds of photos of Chanterelles, I had never seen one in the wild before. Since no one was around, I sat close to them, sniffed their potent apricot scent and went about harvesting a good many. I picked each one and cut off the dirt, one by one. As I climbed the mountain I found more and more.
At one point I thought I heard someone coming! I had heard stories of ravenous hunters who compete with people for territory. No way was I going to let someone else clean up my Chanterelle patch! I hurried to pick them all, and in doing so, stopped cleaning the dirt from their bases. I tossed each one into my brown bags, crunchy dirt landed and settled into the Chanterelles’ ridges. I so desired to pick every one that I even took off my long sleeved shirt to use as a sack. No one came, however. The sound must have been in my imagination.
I was a bit lost, but having remembered the general direction of the road based on the slope of the mountain, I followed the slope down. I came to the road about a mile south of our camp. A stranger in a car going the opposite direction stopped for a moment and stared at me before she rolled down her window and asked if I needed help. Here I was, a shirtless guy with baby golden mushrooms spilling out of a make-shift pouch. “No, thanks!” I said, realizing how goofy I looked. Because of the weight of Chanterelles, I had to take my time returning uphill to camp.
Back at the camp we spent futile hours trying to clean the dirt from the chanterelles. During our cleanup my buddy said, “Hey, look what I found while foraging,” It was a tiny yellow club mushroom, Clavariadelphus truncatus, about half the size of my pinky. We were elated because during the a Telluride Mushroom Festival cookout competition, the guy who won first place made an ice cream dessert using the same wild mushroom. When I bit into it, sugar exploded onto my tongue. The only other time I’ve found that club mushroom was in Denali National Park, Alaska, this last September, during the first snows of autumn.
What is your favourite mushroom to eat?
Although its flavor is not as exciting as some of the more commonly revered wild mushrooms, my favorite mushroom to eat is the Blewit, Lepista nuda, partly because it reminds me of my first experience eating a wild mushroom, and partly because for culinary purposes it’s a wonderful addition: unlike other mushrooms that turn brown when cooked, cooking doesn’t diminish Blewit’s purple color.
Is there a mushroom you are waiting and hoping to eventually find?
Yeah, I hear about uncommon and unique mushrooms growing in areas all around the world. One that’s caught my attention is Weraroa novae-zelandiae, which grows in New Zealand. It’s a pouch fungus specific to the region. One day I’ll make my way there :)
Do you have a favourite picture of yourself foraging or a picture of mushrooms you have picked?
Tons! I rarely go foraging without my camera. This first one is from my foray with Daniel Winkler, who gave me my first Blewit. Former San Diego Mycological Society president Sam Andrasko identifies mushrooms on the right. You can see four purple Blewits sitting on their heads in the lower left. The second one is from my Colorado chanterelle find. I used my blue shirt as a pouch to carry all the chanterelles. The final one is of my recent Lobster mushroom, Hypomyces lactifluorum, find just outside Flagstaff, Arizona. Photo credit Michelle Lindsay.
Want to be interviewed? Answer the questions above & include a favourite picture of yourself foraging or mushrooms you have picked and submit! If you don’t have a tumblr, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure to include a link to your tumblr or any sites of yours that you want to share. Interviews are posted on Tuesdays whenever possible.
Funjai Provides For Cam and Joe
I started hanging out with mushroom joe last year after we “met” on tumblr. He’s become a great friend and I’m so happy he’s back in the bay area after adventuring around alaska and the caribbean for the summer. He’s a gentle soul, very knowledgeable and super fun to go hiking with. On saturday we decided to go on a hike without any expectations that we would find mushrooms - it is the driest calendar year on record for the bay after all! We made up “funjai" the mushroom god at the beginning of our outing, and a short time later we came across a pile of chanterelles - coincidence? I think not.
In conclusion - liking people’s posts is awesome, but meeting them in person is even better, go make a real tumblr buddy, pray to funjai, and hope for a delicious, home foraged meal!
(Mount Tamalpais, California - 12/2013)
PS: if you are an artist and want to help us make a portrayal of “funjai” let me know! We are thinking he/she kinda looks like a lion’s mane with a gnarled face :-)
Thanks for an awesome foray, Cam!
Mushroom Joe’s Myco News
Monday, December 30, 2013
Joe Soeller of mushroomjoe.com here. Since California has been experiencing one of the driest record years, there have been few mushrooms finds. I did, however, surprisingly stumble upon some Blewits and Chanterelles in Marin County this weekend! :) Woohoo! Thanks to Peter Poli of Wisconsin and Cam Fortin of San Francisco for awesome forays!
In other news, some awesome community events have recently occurred and some worthwhile writeups have sprung. Forward me events, studies, and news to email@example.com for addition to the next mushroom-newsletter. Enjoy!
January 10 - January 12, 2014, Friday through Sunday.
@ Louden Nelson Community Center, 301 Center Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
I’ll be there, boothing for Bay Area Radical Mycology on Saturday and Sunday! Woohoo! Talks by Tom Volk and David Arora, and by many others!
Thinking Like a Mushroom by Megan Szrom. Female & Fungi. December 10, 2013.
Female and Fungi host another slum-dunk article, this time by Bay Area Radical Mycology’s very own Megan Szrom! Sweet! Megan discusses the advantages to thinking in the ways of this ancient and organic lifeform. She writes, “These thoughts are meant to galvanize a radical perspective shift, and be an opening to a deep dialogue between humans, mushrooms, and nature.” Read the rest!
Homegrown/Backyard Oyster Mushroom Cultivation by Betty Homer. Under the Solano Sun. October 8, 2013.
Here’s a simple write up on Ray and Patty Lanier’s (Mushroom Maestros) method for pasteurizing and preparing straw on which to cultivate oyster mushrooms. Thanks to Sean Parnell for linking the article.
The Mushroom Tunnel by Nicola. Edible Geography. September 9, 2009.
This awesome article, with photographs included, describes an Australian cultivator’s method for growing mushrooms in a disused railway tunnel. Gotta check this out :)
Lactofermented Mushrooms Pickle Me Too. February 3, 2012.
Thinking about fermenting your mushrooms? Well here’s a quick guide. Can’t wait to try it out! Thanks for the link, mom!
Maya Elson announces Santa Cruz’s new Radical Mycology group. Maya says, “Future projects may include: community cultivation space(s), mushroom beds at a community garden, remediating toxins going in to the San Lorenzo River from an old tannery, disaster prep team, and much more…” If you’re interested in getting on her e-mail list, contact Maya @ firstname.lastname@example.org
Henry Shaw’s Photos of Mycological Society of San Francisco’s Fungus Fair. Flickr. December 14, 2013.
This colorful album shows the wonder and excitement of all the amazing people who showed up to enjoy MSSF’s annual Fungus Fair. Thanks Henry!
Peter McCoy’s Radical Mycology Book Indie-Go-Go Campaign is still cookin’, and he’s raised over $9,000. Check out his campaign and support his cause. Campaign runs until January 10, 2014.
Myco-news. December 6, 2013
Mushroom Joe here with the latest news on the mushroom front. In case you missed any of it, here’s what people are talking about this week. Feel free to forward this e-mail.
article: Remediating Radiation Contamination Around Fukushima with Funghi by Paul Stamets. May 19, 2012.
Although this article is over a year old, it’s been popping up in circles recently. It’s Paul Stamets’ 8-step solution to cleaning up radiation contamination. I agree with Alan Rockefeller: there are still a lot of holes in the plan that need to be considered (such as: how do we guarantee gathering every mushroom that is produced during the remediation process? among others). But at least it’s a step in the right direction. Remedies to the effects of nuclear radiation still need more information and research.
article: “Mushrooms Can Change the Weather” news blurb. November 25, 2013.
article: Direct abstract
I personally think saying “mushrooms can change the weather” is a bit misleading, but scientists of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics used high speed videography to show that mushrooms use a combination of water vapor and active cooling to manipulate their local fluid environment, which improves spore dispersal.
video + article: Radical Mycology’s Indie-a-Go-Go Fundraiser. November 26, 2013 - January 10, 2014.
Washington’s Peter McCoy is fundraising money for a book he’s excited to assemble and publish about many things myco! In about ten days he’s raised over $7,000 of an $18,000 goal. I think he can make it, but he’ll need more help from you guys! Check out his project and spread the news!
video: Radical Mycology: Make bulk chip spawn easier with a plastic tub. Dec 4, 2013.
Peter wanted to thank everyone who has donated to his Indie-Go-Go fundraiser so far by uploading this video he made on how to easily grow bulk chip spawn using a plastic tub and Pholiota nameko. Awesome video, thanks Peter!
article: With Loving Respect to Fungus by Fern Katz on Female and Fungi. Nov 28, 2013.
A wonderful self-reflective article on Female and Fungi by Fern Kats, “With Loving Respect to Fungus…” discusses new personal discoveries after falling in love with mushrooms.
Tradd Cotter of South Carolina’s Mushroom Mountain discusses the potential of mycelia and how we can grow and utilize it to solve some of the world’s needs. Although this video is over a couple years old, I just came across it and think it’s worth sharing!
video: Bay Area Radical Mycology on the news. November 21, 2013.
article: Pictures and discussions of the event, a post-report. November 24, 2013.
We at Bay Area Radical Mycology made the evening news a couple weeks ago when 30+ of us assembled on East Bay Municipal Utility District’s land to build a living fungus filter that can be used to filter E. coli from cattle-dung water run-off. This is the second year we’ve done this and we’re excited to have so many people come to help us out. This opens up opportunities for smaller watersheds and private residence.
article: Edible East Bay’s Jillian Steinberger reports on the culture of mushroom people in the Bay Area. Nov 15, 2013.
Until next time,
Peter and The Radical Mycology Collective
Here’s an awesome video I just discovered by Tradd Cotter of Mushroom Mountain about the potential of mycelium. He’s been helpful in supplying Bay Area Radical Mycology with Stropharia species for use as a filter. Thanks Tradd!
In a 2013 Beutel and Stamets report, a mycelium-inoculated substrate removed E. coli bacteria in water at average rates of 69% to 80%. The substrate used in the study was composed of 25% chips, 50% sawdust, 25% straw inoculated with a Pleurotus species from Fungi Perfecti. In our installation we used a similar substrate blend composed of 50% chips, 25% sawdust, 25% straw and a Pleurotus species from Far West Fungi.
Beutel, Stamets, et al. Mycofiltration Biotechnology for Pathogen Management. 2013 [link: http://goo.gl/qZxTtR ]
In a 2009 Battelle study for the Department of Energy, a mycelium-inoculated wetland removed fecal coliform bacteria in water by 90% to 97%. In the study, two wetlands were constructed, identical and mirroring each other. One was built with myceliated wood chips, one without. Comparatively, the control showed a 66% to 92% reduction in fecal coliform.
Thomas, et al. Field Demonstration of Mycoremediation for Removal of Fecal Coliform Bacteria and Nutrients in the Dungeness Watershed, Washington. 2009 [link: http://goo.gl/SBCsv3 ]
Bay Area Radical Mycology installed a living filter on EBMUD’s Orinda property on Thursday, November 21, 2013. Here’s the video for that :) Thanks to all the volunteers that came out to participate!
Radical Mycology’s long time friend, Pat Rasmussen with Edible Forest Gardens in Olympia, made an incredible amateur mycological discovery the other day. Pat regularly installs perennial gardens in the Olympia area, often with the Elm Oyster mushroom (Hypsizygus ulmarius) as a potential companion for the plants. But when a local big-name mushroom farm accidentally sent her the wrong kit, she ended up installing the Nameko mushroom (Pholiota nameko) instead. 5 months later, the result were incredible. The perennial Aronia plants (similar to blueberries) planted in the area with the mushroom bed grew over twice as large as those plants grown without the mushroom companion. And the grape plants in the area did much better as well. As with all great scientific discoveries, this accident leads to a new realm of exploration in the field of plant companioning.
Why do some decomposing fungi help plants grow? The answer isn’t clear. In the book Mycelium Running, Paul Stamets worked with a research student to determine whether specific saprotrophic mushrooms would be beneficial to certain food plants if grown in proximity. After a season of growth and various plant and mushroom pairings, a few strong results surfaced. Notably, the Elm Oyster was found to dramatically increase Brassica plant growth and yield, while other pairings (such as normal Oyster mushrooms [Pleurotus spp.] paired with Brassicas) were shown to actually be detrimental to the plants. The exact reason for this is unknown. As both these mushroom species are aggressive decomposers, it can’t simply be the nutrient and carbon dioxide release. Perhaps specific enzymes being released by the Elm Oyster works to stimulate the Brassica plant’s roots or supports the soil flora. Chances are, there might be many more beneficial plant-mushrooms pairings that have yet to be discovered.
Pat’s accidental discovery is notable for 3 main reasons: 1) the Nameko mushroom has not been previously cited as a known food plant companion, 2) the dramatic results from pairing this decomposing fungus (as opposed to a mycorrhizal fungus) with a perennial plant is interesting as most better known plant-(decomposing) mushroom companionings (such as the Elm Oyster with Brassicas) are often done with annual plants and 3) Pat is an amateur mycologist! As mycology is such a young field, new discoveries are made all the time, especially by non-professionals or academics. By adding to the world of mycological knowledge, Pat is taking part in the citizen science aspect of mycology. While this pairing should be further tested to determine true efficacy, this is exactly the kind of exciting discovery we support and are inspired by at Radical Mycology. Kinda makes you wanna go play with mushrooms.
Enjoy this fresh interview with Maya Elson, co-founder of the Radical Mycology Movement, by the gals at femaleandfungi.com. In the interview, “Womyn of the Month, November 2013,” Maya discusses her role in and the upcoming events for the Radical Mycology Movement, how she got started with community organizing, and female involvement in the mycological and greater scientific community.
Top: Mino de Angelis of Bay Area Radical Mycology reads the newest issue in Edible East Bay about the bay area mushroom community. In the article “The Hidden Kingdom of the Blobs,” Jillian Steinberger talks about what BARM is doing on the EBMUD Orinda land with mycofiltration and accelerated decomposition using mushrooms mycelium. In the second picture I’m pointing to a photo snapped south of the Grand Canyon of me holding lobster mushrooms (woohoo!)
If you don’t have physical access to the magazine, here are the links to the three articles:
Hello fellow mycophiles and earth stewards!
We at Radical Mycology are excited to announce the upcoming launch of the Radical Mycology book Indiegogo campaign onNovember 26, 2014!
This crowdfunding campaign will pay for the production and publishing of the Radical Mycology Book, a guide to the uses of mushrooms and other fungi for personal, societal, and ecological change. A preview of the campaign can be seen here:
http://bit.ly/rmiggHow can you help?
First of all, thanks you all so much for your support and interest in the Radical Mycology project thus far. What started with a free zine has since grown into a veritable grassroots mycological movement that couldn’t have happened without the passion and support of everyone involved.
If you would like to help support this project further, please consider backing this campaign on day 1. We have offered some great gifts on the campaign page and know that you won’t be disappointed by the breadth and depth of information this book will provide.
What is the RMC?
The Radical Mycology Convergence is a unique gathering of mycologists, mushroom enthusiasts, and Earth stewards coming together to share skills and information on the numerous benefits of the fungal kingdom for humans and the planet. The RMC is a multiple-day long event consisting of workshops, presentations, and various projects using fungi and other organisms to remediate & restore damaged environments. 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 organizers of the Radical Mycology Convergence feel strongly that the skills of need to be shared. We want to make information on the fungi and their healing powers accessible and tangible for as many people as possible without making it overly-heady or technical. By creating an encouraging and welcoming space we hope to “be-mushroom” all who attend in an effort to bring about greater planetary health.
The organizers of the RMC 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.
Where & When
The location and date of the 3rd RMC is still to be determined. For more info on this and how to help us find a location, visit out Location & Date page here:
The RM crew