All posts by Alex Kazer

The Magic of Mushrooms

Back in November, the Polk County AED team headed out to Durham for the annual Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) Sustainable Agriculture Conference, where farmers and advocates gather together to network and learn about new farming techniques.  The weekend was packed full of panels and workshops that covered a dizzying array of farm-related issues, including soil health, livestock fencing techniques, community-scale food policy, new marketing opportunities, and everything in between.

The Friday before the conference featured a series of full-day workshops that allowed attendees to take a deep dive into a topic of interest.  I was lucky enough to attend a workshop on mushroom cultivation hosted by Tradd Cotter, founder of Mushroom Mountain in upstate South Carolina and author of the popular mushroom growing guide book Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation.  We covered the basic biology of fungi, the various methods of growing mushrooms, and a few of the exciting areas of new mushroom research, including medicine and mycoremediation (using fungi to break down and reduce contaminants in an area).

While there are far too many interesting mushroom tidbits to cover in a short blog post, here is just a sample of some of the possibilities for mushroom cultivation on your property:

  • A mushroom patch in your garden or woods:

Check out this great video from Steve Gabriel of Cornell University Extension as he explains the basics of creating a simple, productive patch of Stropharia mushrooms in a bed of wood chips.

  • Producing mushrooms on logs:

If you need or want to thin some of the hardwood trees on your property, you can use the logs to grow valuable and delicious mushrooms!  Alabama Extension has produced an informative primer on how the process works.

  • Growing mushrooms indoors in bags or buckets:

You can start off small with a simple pre-made kit from a company like Mushroom Mountain to provide you with some tasty mushrooms for dinner.  Once you get the hang of what it takes to keep one bag going strong, you can scale up to create your own enterprise.

Beyond being culinary delicacies and potentially lucrative agricultural enterprises, fungi also play a critical and largely unseen role in maintaining our natural habitat.  This fascinating podcast from Radiolab investigates the hidden world of mushrooms in the forest and the way they connect trees to each other.

I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity I had to learn about the wide world of mushroom cultivation at the CFSA conference.  While I feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface, I’m excited to try growing my own mushrooms, to hunt for them in the woods and fields around the county, and to uncover more of the secrets of these weird, wonderful fruits.