We've all heard of garden therapy and how spending time with plants is good for our bodies and our minds. But growing fungi is a bit different. Fungi do not fit into the classification of plants or animals but are inextricably linked to our lives and livelihoods. They have the ability to heal us by helping us inherit a fungal perspective on living in this world, teaching us how we can improve our systems, entertaining us with their strangeness, and improving our health with medicinal benefits.
Growing our own food is one of the most sustainable practices we can do
Some may wonder how much impact one human being can have on the planet. The answer is lots. By growing our own food, we become self-reliant and create our own food system without environmental consequences.
Project Drawdown, the leading resource for climate solutions, identified reducing food waste as the third most impactful solution to reverse global warming. It nearly had the same impact on reducing emissions over the next thirty years as onshore wind turbines. More than 70 billion tons of greenhouse gases could be prevented from being released into the atmosphere.
Potential emissions reduction for 2020-2050
So where does all this food get wasted anyway? Food is often left in the field, rejected at markets, unused by consumers, or go bad due to poor infrastructure. What adds to this is the emissions involved in food transport and packaging disposal. When we grow our own food, we decrease demand in the supply chain to prevent waste at each of these stages.
We can opt for an integral system by growing any food at home, but mushrooms, in particular, give us a great opportunity for recycling. The mushroom substrate in finished kits makes great compost. The blocks can be broken apart and mixed into garden compost to enrich the soil, offering nutrients to plants. Mushroom compost or mulch makes it easier for the soil to hold water and significantly decreases our garden watering needs. Ultimately the best part about composting is the satisfaction it brings when we can close the loop and make efficient use of our waste as nature intended.
The kits make it possible for urban dwellers to grow with limited garden space, yet most of us cannot survive only on homegrown food.
It is said that 41.4% of the average Melbournian’s eco-footprint is embodied in the food we buy.
- Sustainable Table
This means that our habits around food— including buying only what we need, using all of the parts of our foods, and giving it another life, are all important to consider when solving the food waste problem.
When we become a grower, we begin to appreciate the journey of food until it travels to our bellies and the source of nature that powered it. We learn that it requires knowledge, consistent effort, and patience, and become more mindful in the way we buy, eat and dispose food. Growing gets us interested in the story of food and helps us connect with the food we eat. It's an act of love for ourselves and our planet.
Learning about fungi gives us insight into our world
Growing anything successfully involves learning about the crop. As we find out more about fungi, we discover that, unlike plants, they don't live on bright sunshine and fresh air. Fungi get their food from other sources, but can't move to scavenge like animals. They grow as masses of narrow branched threads called hyphae with thin outer walls that absorb the food, water, and oxygen into the fungal cell. Every step we take through a forest can cover hundreds of kilometres of dense fungal threads. These are the fibre optic cables of the wood-wide web.
The fungus forms mycorrhiza with plant roots, and through those connections pass substances that both organisms need to grow. This relationship has been understood for decades as a healthy exchange between plants and fungi: plants provide carbon-rich sugars made by photosynthesis, and in return, they get nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, that the fungi pull from the soil. These networks are complex, often encompassing not just multiple plants but multiple species, and depending on the type of fungi involved, different materials can be exchanged. By staying connected, organisms can provide mutual support and help shape the ecosystems they inhabit.
Wood wide web image by One Earth
The notion of fungi weaving all life forms together, allows us to see this vital dimension of nature and feel connected to other fellow organisms in the ecosystem.
In these stressful times when we are forced to isolate ourselves with limited access to our usual list of activities, the recognition that we are living together with other visible and invisible lifeforms on the planet can become a source of comfort and a practice to widen our hearts.
Fungi teach us the diversity of the natural world and our dependence to them, bringing us back to our senses with feelings of calm and happiness.
The next time we step into the woods we may see each tree and a root as a part of a massive ecosystem instead of a single organism, and when we monitor the growth of a kit we may discover that they are not only our greatest teachers of life itself but such a delight to have around.
Mushrooms bring life to our homes, it's like having a low maintenance friend
Those who have owned a kit before would know. Mushrooms are pretty dramatic. They grow super fast and surprise us with their dynamic growth into interesting shapes. As a general rule, they grow a lot faster than plants, since they grow via cell enlargement, not cell division. You may wonder why your mushroom block hasn't shown any signs of growth and all of a sudden see multiple caps pin overnight. You might do some errands and go back in a couple of hours and POOF! the small pinheads may have grown into fleshy capped mushrooms. Oyster mushrooms are among the quickest to fruit and growers are often fascinated by their rapid transformations.
Brunswick Nursery’s shiitake log
Fermented Mamma's Gourmet Mushroom Farm - yellow oysters
A home grower explains, “I buy [mushroom growing kits] for the novelty and for observing the grow patterns because they’re so diverse and interesting – it's like having an interesting friend." Mushrooms are funny creatures, even experienced mycologists growing for years are fascinated by their behaviours. A Gramco customer who purchased many grow kits in a row shows her appreciation for them leaving us a message, "Thank you for giving me so much joy during iso!"
Many urban growers have expressed that the growth of their mushrooms was the most activity they had seen in their homes through lockdown.
Eating homegrown mushrooms can directly give us a health boost
The process of growing mushrooms is valuable enough to get us sucked into becoming a grower, but for most people, the best part is eating them. The physical benefits they can bring us are endless — they're packed with about 15 vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B6, folate magnesium, zinc, and potassium as well as difficult to find compounds such as polysaccharides.
All varieties of mushrooms are low in calories and fat and contain modest amounts of fibre and various nutrients. However, the more interesting properties of mushrooms are their non-nutritive plant substances—polysaccharides, indoles, polyphenols, and carotenoids in which cell and animal studies have shown antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer effects. Angela Lemond, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says that it makes them “a great food to consume when you have minor inflammation, such as an injury, or if you have any autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.” They’re also one of the few foods that have vitamin D, which is important for building strong bones, reducing inflammation, and improving immune function.
Out of the varieties, oyster and shiitake mushrooms have the most fiber (at 2g per serving) and raw maitake mushrooms and morels are among the highest in vitamin D, but ultimately, any mushroom is a good choice. “The best mushrooms are the ones you enjoy and will eat most consistently,” says St. Pierre, a registered dietitian and director of performance nutrition at Precision Nutrition. “They all provide an array of benefits.”
Most grow kits give us around 3 to 5 flushes and some intermittent mushroom growth between flushes. We get to pick them as they grow and have mushrooms on the menu as long as we can keep the kits going. On top of that, the ones we grow are often superior to store bought mushrooms. It's no surprise that eating the fruits of your own labor is tastier, let's be honest. But the real concern lies in the difficulty to know how the food at the stores gets there. We also don't know how much it had to travel, how long it has been sitting on the shelves, or if it had been exposed to chemicals.
@itsblackfalcon 's keto meal with Gourmet Mushroom Farm - golden oysters
Mushroom growing captures the hearts of many, for many reasons. No matter what type, and how we do it, there's a way for it to enrich our lives. They heal us directly in remarkable ways, but most of the work they do is in places we can't see. Some of their jobs are bringing rain, breaking down toxic chemicals, forming durable building materials, and treating diseases that we thought we'd never be able to tackle. And that's only a few of them. Fungi prove their potential every day, showing us how much we don't know about our world. If we're open enough, we can be guided by their blessings to examine ourselves and how we relate to everything around us. And with this understanding, we may be able to make modifications to our lifestyles to live more harmoniously in our complex systems. Having mushrooms around can be a lot more than just a hobby if we can listen to the mushrooms speak to us.