This took place at Castlefield Gallery and Hulme Community Garden Centre on Saturday 24th November. The title swung back and forth between Radical Mycology Gathering 1 and Mycorrhizal Gathering 1 before settling on the mycorrhizal – I let the Radical Mycology people in the US know that it was happening and asked for some advice but never heard anything back, and it felt a little uncomfortable to use the name – something I came to regret, as it’s a lot easier and more explanatory to call it Radical Mycology Gathering 1, but hey ho. Below are the notes put together after the gathering by myself and the facilitator, the very excellent Jed Picksley, resident of Earthworm Housing Co-op should you wish to engage her for facilitation, compassionate communication training, anything to do with co-ops and a whole host of other skills.
But first, here is how we publicised the gathering:
Knowledge exchange for the fungally inclined
This gathering brings together artists, mycologists, activists, growers, and others interested in fungi for an exchange of practical knowledge and connective ideas. It is especially aimed at those who might be interested in starting a UK node of the ‘Radical Mycology’ network.
Radical Mycology radicalmycology.com/ is a grassroots movement and social philosophy based on teaching the importance of working with mushrooms and other fungi for personal, societal, and ecological resilience. It differs from classical mycology in that, rather than focusing on taxonomy, identification, study and mycophagy (eating mushrooms), Radical Mycology works to build relationships between humans and fungi for the benefit of larger communities and the wider world.
A classic example of a resilient system in nature are the mycorrhizal (fungus-root) mutual aid associations. 95% of plants form with subsoil fungi, in which the plants exchange starches for water, minerals and other benefits such as deterring predators, breaking down rock into soil and filtering out heavy metals. The fossil record indicates that mycorrhizal fungi were key to the transition of plants from water to land 400 million years ago. In nature, it is survival of the most co-operative as much as it survival of the fittest (and don’t let Jordan Peterson tell you otherwise). Studying the interdependence of plants and fungi provides a useful counter to the neoliberal paradigm which claims that it is “natural” for individuals to act as rational agents motivated only by self-interest.
Notes from Mycorrhizal Gathering 1: Inoculation
Saturday 24th November, Castlefield Gallery/Hulme Community Garden Centre
It isn’t only
for food I hunt them
but for the hunt and because
they smell of death and the waxy
skins of the newborn,
flesh into earth into flesh.
Here is the handful
of shadow I have brought back to you:
this decay, this hope, this mouth-
ful of dirt, this poetry.
– Margaret Atwood, Mushrooms
The day started in Castlefield Gallery with a tour of the exhibition The Ground Beneath Your Feet where Keep It Complex, myself, Omid Asadi and other artists combine to create a complex web of response to current and timeless issues, standing together in confident defiance of the “simplistic lies” that forces wanting to divide, reduce, disempower, and disconnect us from each other, nature, and visions of a better world with productive alliances between human and non-human forces.
From there we moved to Hulme Garden Centre where we spent the rest of the day going into Radical Mycology.
1. Introducing each other, we learnt that artists, activists, mushroom growers, mushroom enthusiasts and the mushroom-curious were all present!
We introduced a jargon buster which was in general a bit overwhelmed, but one little bit that might help people begin to comprehend and explain fungal diversity:
Saprophytic fungi – live on dead matter
Parasitic mushrooms – live on living matter
Endophytic fungi – live inside plants
Symbiotic fungi – form mutual aid relationships with living plants
Fungal growth and development
– fungi have a membrane-bound nucleus, like humans and other animals (not like bacteria!)
– their fruiting bodies; the mushrooms we see above ground, are comparable to the apples on an apple tree. The ‘bark’, ‘roots’ and ‘branches’ being unseen, but much larger, and present for much longer.
– the fruiting body produces numerous spores sometimes 30 billion spores a day!
– some the fruiting bodies eject spores, explosively. 20-thousand-G-force expulsions are not uncommon!
2. James Scrivens from Coed Tanylan started us off with an overview of his life in fungus and of Radical Mycology, which I’m hoping he will work up into an article for the zine we are going to put together!
He started with a beautiful poetic account of Radical Mycology which contained the phrase Spores of Liberation, and pointed out that 10% of our enteric (gut) biome is fungi. And told us how Peter McCoy started Radical Mycology in the US in 2006, as a path to partnering with fungi. Think like fungi!
In short the US Radical Mycology network seeks to work with fungi, apply fungi, promote fungi, communicate insights from the fungal world to humans and, most importantly, encourage humans to learn from interacting with fungi.
https://radicalmycology.com has lots of threads of information; a short contents page for what mushrooms can help us learn about is…
– highly resilient life cycles
– patterns and principles for increasing interconnected health and diversity
– recycling and regenerating ecology
– mutual aid
In the US there is an annual convergence with workshops on mushrooms as fibre, dyes, paper, pigments and medicine as well as food and inspiration, and there is a report on the 2018 convergence on the Radical Mycology homepage.
Humans are more closely related to fungi than to plants; our common ancestor branched off a paltry 800 million years ago.
There are 6 million species of fungi – nearly half of all species on Earth – and only 2% have been classified; and only 100 have been integrated with humans, as food, medicine or other function.
Ganoderma – reishi – can produce 30 billion spores a day!!!
Spores can be ejected at a force of 20,000G – they are the fastest thing on Earth.
Panspermia is the idea that life may have originated from intergalactic spores.
In the fungal world there can be thousands of mating types – gender is complicated!
Fungus grow from the beautifully-named Spitzencorpe – the growing tip – which is constantly dissolving and being rebuilt. The hyphae exert huge pressure and can grow through hard things like tarmac.
The hyphae form hyphal knots which fill with water and form fruit – the mushroom.
Suzanne Simard showed in the 1990s, that mycorrhizal fungus is neither saprophytic nor parasitic, but exhibits mutual aid with the plants it associates with. She showed that when trees are deprived of light, the mycorrhizal network will redistribute resources as needed. See her Ted talk here:
90% of plants have mycorrhizal associations; some plants, such as orchids, can’t germinate without mycorrhizal fungi.
Mycorrhiza can be divided into ectomycorrhizal (where the fungal hyphae form a lattice between their host’s epidermal and cortical root cells known as the Hartig net) and endomycrrhizae (where the hyphae penetrate the roots). Ectomycorrhizal fungi (which come from the phyla Basidiomycota, Ascomycota, and Zygomycota) form associations with around 2% of plant species, typically woody plants, and tend to specialise – ie the fungus will only grown in association with particular plants. Endomycorrhizae come in three types – arbuscular mycorrhizae (from the phylum Glomeromycota), ericoid mycorrhizae (phylum Ascomycota) and arbutoid mycorrhizae (phylum Basidiomycota) – and form associations with 80% of plant species, including most food crops, grasses, herbs and trees such as apple, cherry, maple and juniper.
Jane got James to say more about the phylum glomeromycota which has large spores which the fungi shed underground. One of the reasons they are so large is that they contain 300-85,000 [???my notes just say thousands – JL] of different genetic nuclei. They exude a substance called glomalin which is sticky and helps soil to aggregate; it helps the soil become a better carbon sink, because it is itself a predominantly carbon-based substance. This species actually defies the concept of biological species as it seems to have no isolated DNA.
Mushroom Behaviour Round-up
– connectivity increases resilience
– equitable distribution of surplus
– increasing biological interaction
– sharing information
– promoting preserving and extending diversity
– recycling nutrients
– building soil
– minimising losses; nothing is lost
– “culturing from the leading edge”; growing from the new tips rather than an old centre; like society growing from schools or new university departments rather than growing from the staid old houses of parliament in Westminster!
– creating substrate for new society to emerge – building soil
– appreciating that soil is primary and fungus and humans can collaborate to improve it.
Fungus has built our soil! And maybe in part the internet – the Shroomery was a very early internet forum
Those that partner with fungi will prevail. [instructive to consider here that people in Gaza and Syria have both turned to mushroom growing to survive – see A MUSHROOM REVOLUTION TAKES ROOT IN THE MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA
and An Amazing Letter From a Cultivator in Syria…
Alex Hamer spoke for five minutes in soil ecology and remote sensing; predicting what life will be in the soil by measuring and identifying the plants using satellites, planes, drones and spectrometers (or, not having to disturb the earth). In a satellite photo, one pixel can represent 10 x 10 metres.
Her PhD is in soil biodiversity, linking fungi and bacteria to plant traits and looking at the carbon an nitrogen cycles.
Miranda, Sophie and Leonie spoke about the Callis Community Allotment/garden, and their Mushroom Club. Mushroom Club is making an evening of it, someone sharing some research they’ve done on a particular mushroom, eating some, maybe inoculating a substrate or making tinctures together. Focusing on a particular mushroom each time, you’ll never run out of learning together!
Marc Hudson had us do an exercise called “the skills and knowledge in the room“, demonstrating that any room full of people knows a lot, and any group can increase its resilience by deliberately sharing the skills that will help it to carry out its functions as a group, or just help people to reap more learning benefits from each other by explicitly asking for advice about things we might want to learn.
Colin told us about the origins of his Mushroom Spotters Facebook mushroom group, which has just two rules: Keep it friendly, and keep it mushroom! The group grew out of a desire to have a Facebook group with “no politics”, for people who initially met through anti-fracking activity.
Foraging Tips from Colin
Foraging works all year round, in woods or fields of many sorts. A book that Colin recommends for getting started with foraging, is “River Cottage Mushrooms” by John Wright. It is not a recipe book, but a foraging guide. It stars 50 easy-to-forage mushroom, and includes the ones-you-might-mistake-those-for, and has just a few recipes at the end, but is more about the joy of getting out and searching around.
Right now (the start of winter) we could be finding velvet shanks (the cultivated form is known as enoki) for an immuno-boost.
Colin’s top mushrooms are Turkey Tail all year round, and the hardest-to-mistake-for-anything-else, “Scarlett Elf Cup”, so safe because it’s edible, and easy to identify.
I gave a swift account of myco-remediation – the use of fungus to clean up toxins. Oyster mushrooms are particularly adept at this, being able to convert hydrocarbons such as diesel into water and sugars, clean up E. coli and bioaccumulate heavy metals. See https://www.ted.com/talks/paul_stamets_on_6_ways_mushrooms_can_save_the_world for more info.
Kirsty, a natural nutritionist, gave us some really succinct tips to improve our overall health:
– drink more, especially water,
– eat more fibre
– balance your omega 3 and omega 6 intakes (to regulate all inflammatory conditions) – in general, people eat too little omega 3
– eat mushrooms and seaweed every day; seaweed contains omega 3.
On the eating mushrooms front, putting mushrooms gills-up in the sun for 6 hours before eating (or drying, and eating later) massively increases the amount of D vitamins. She particularly recommended shiitake, black trumpet, horn of plenty and golden chanterelles. Shiitake especially has lots of D vitamins and B12.
One of the reasons fibre is so essential, is that it feeds the micro-organisms in our stomachs, which then release – for us – hard-to-get nutrients. We should aim for 35 fibre per day. Long-chain polysaccharides are good for gut bacteria. Our guts are important, as 80% of our serotonin comes from our gut.
Another talk link to fit in:
Paul Stamets “psilocybin and the mycology of consciousness”.
4. Next steps
January Radical Mycology Gathering 1.5 – practical and social day out at Callis Community Allotment.
February 16th, 1-4 pm Radical Mycology Gathering 2 at The Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool – everyone to bring a contribution to the What Is Radical Mycology zine.
March Red Pig Farm “Coed Talylan”, Wales. James invites us and other volunteers to come and stay on his land in Wales, for anything over a week, and help inoculate 1000 logs with Turkey Tail mushrooms. 12 people can be cosilly hosted at any one time at Red Pig Farm.
Summer 2019 – Radical Mycology gathering? For 40-50 people?
September 2019 – Fungus Festival in Bolton.
Read “The mushroom at the end of the world” by Anna Tsing and reconvene at Islington Mill to talk about it in April maybe. A weekend afternoon slot preferred, Jane to lead conferring and arranging.
A newsletter/zine working group on What Is Radical Mycology?: Jane, Matthew, Esme, Lauren, James and Alex.
We want your photos and stories about how your thinking continued after the 24th November, with your inoculated cardboard burrito!
Some random points JL wrote down which could feed into the zine – could even be sections:
Engage with land/ecological issues through something practical
A new Radical Mycology UK Facebook group. James has created this – you can join at https://www.facebook.com/Radical-Mycology-UK-293608777937510/.
Invitation to join Colin’s Facebook group Mushroom Spotters UK https://www.facebook.com/groups/1162989313716416/ .
Future events any participant can kick off
– Forage, discussion and meal days
– getting together to make tinctures
– Visit Preston New Road with mushroom soup!
– Ted talk evenings
– going to WWOOF at Red Pig Farm/Coed Tanylyn (James’s place)
– further investigations into the role of fungus in soil carbon https://www.4p1000.org
Excitingly, Colin is doing a forest school course with a group of artists at Islington Mill, and the Mill is also talking about setting up a community garden – which could go fungal! Jane and Esme are interested in this.
James has made a blog post really spelling out what to do next with the cardboard burritos and the bags of straw – here it is! http://www.mycogeneration.co.uk/article/using-your-cardboard-spawn-with-straw/ – add comments to the page if you have any questions, thus making it into a handy and informative forum for all of us.
The philosophy of Radical Mycology might inspire us to try to explore a new social media platform/application, that chimes more with our values than the monster-king Facebook.
James will send a message round about the block-chain-technology-based new social media platform, which isn’t Facebook.
I encourage everyone to join the North West Fungus Group – it’s ace https://northwestfungusgroup.com and https://www.facebook.com/groups/NorthWestFungusGroup/
Amongst the mushroom info, at the end…
Jed counters all this fungal love, with some facts about bacteria, the other champion kingdom of decay, connection and the transformation of nutrients. Particularly in the stomachs of the animals that graze very dry savannahs and deserts where there is no soil wet or old enough to cycle potassium and other nutrients making them available for plants. In these situations, the stomachs of those animals are crucial sites.
Jed Picksley on Facebook, [email protected]