By Danielle Stevenson of DIY Fungi
Did you know that you can grow delicious, nutritious and protein rich mushrooms on ‘waste’ like spent coffee grounds, cardboard, and garden waste? Or grow edible and medicinal mushrooms in your kale patch and garden pathways? Or work with fungi to address toxic waste and contamination, to filter water and build healthy soil?
I became interested in mushrooms for a different reason, and in a different way, than most people, who I think connect to fungi through foraging or eating mushrooms. I was coordinating an Urban Agriculture project in Victoria where I was helping elementary schools, community groups and families start food gardens. Several times we tested the soil and found it to contain elevated heavy metals and other contaminants. The problem was, we didn’t know what we could do to address the contaminants. I became insatiably curious about this, and started to research. This is when I learned about the incredible role fungi play in building healthy soil and the potential to work with fungi to de-toxify contaminated soils. I watched Paul Stamets’ Ted Talk on “6 ways mushrooms can save the world,” and soon after attended a ‘Radical Mycology Convergence’ in Washington which my friend Leila Darwish- who wrote a great book called “Earth Repair” about grassroots bioremediation- told me about.
To be able to work with fungi for earth renewal, I needed to learn how to cultivate ‘mycelium’ – the living breathing organism itself that in some fungi, reproduces by creating ‘mushrooms’, the fruit body which spreads spores, the ‘seeds’ of fungi. I felt a bit intimidated- was I going to be able to do this? It seemed one needed to invest in a bunch of equipment and materials. I took a Mushroom Cultivation Course with Ja Schindler of Fungi for the People, and left the course with mushroom cultures and a handbook and went home to Victoria to try out every cool thing I had read that you could do with fungi. I approached mushroom cultivation with a sense of curiosity, play and experimentation. Rather than purchase materials, I gathered recycled materials like milk cartons and planter pots for my containers, and spent coffee grounds and other waste products (shredded paper, cardboard) as my ‘substrates’ for growing mushrooms on. This hobby became a business, and complements the work I do as Food Access Coordinator with 8 community centres coordinating a food recovery program, and other waste and bioremediation research and projects. I love how fungi bridge these worlds of food access, DIY skills for food growing, and problem solving waste and pollution issues.
Five years later, when I teach about fungi, I focus on these simple, home scale ways that folks can get started growing mushrooms. The upcoming ‘Grow Gourmet Mushrooms at Home’ workshop, is a great way to learn more about fungal ecology- what you need to know to grow your own mushrooms- and each participant will create their own Oyster Mushroom grow kit to take home. Oyster mushrooms are the easiest mushrooms to grow, so they are perfect for beginners to mushroom cultivation, and a great way to learn about mushrooms. They are some of the least picky eaters of the gourmet mushrooms we can grow- and will grow on just about any material containing cellulose- from coffee grounds to shredded office paper to cardboard to invasive plant matter and other agricultural waste. Oyster mushrooms are not only delicious, they are very nutritious- full of vitamins B,C and D, iron and niacin- and medicinal- containing natural ‘statins’ which help modulate cholesterol and properties which support our immune systems. They are also great remediators which can help break down petroleum hydrocarbons (like oil in oil spills) and other chemicals (like cigarette buts).