SF Mycological Society Fungus Fair Rises Again in 2022
As a kid, I bugged the hell out of my parents by endlessly chanting my own version of Terry Noland’s rhythm and blues classic, “There Was a Fungus Among Us.” I think they secretly liked it, but I added a question of the type that children with too much curiosity use to pester parents:
“What is a fungus?”
While the song occasionally resurfaces at sing-alongs, dinners, or on walks, I’ve noticed that “What is a fungus?” has become the inquiry of the decade, rising high amid a sea change in public interest in mushrooms and mycology.
Let me be clear that we are no longer talking toxic toadstools. The popular conversation now moves through wildcrafting, home cultivation and mushroom gardening, mushrooms as nutraceuticals, interesting roles for mycelium in textiles and as building materials, and on into the promise of psychedelics in mental health practice.
Meanwhile, it’s been a few decades since the humble white button mushroom in the supermarket first made room for a wide range of cultivated cousins and wild forest fungi hand-collected during their fruiting seasons. Dried mushrooms from all over the world appear in pantries, and that symbiotic dance with fungi called home fermentation has reached a frenzy as we find new ways to harness the power of yeasts and molds in the kitchen.
But it’s not just our palates that are expanding. There’s a growing understanding of the forest as a holistic and interdependent living system, thanks to researchers bringing that almost invisible world of plant-symbiotic mycorrhizal fungi to light. The fungal kingdom has even penetrated K–12 education in this age of visible climate change, when we want to know—even need to know—how fungi support the planet’s ecosystems and sustainability.
The Flip Side
If you were paying attention in school, you learned about nitrogen and artificial fertilizer as the be-all and end-all in soil fertility, but further 21st century enlightenment reveals how nature assures her fecundity through the carbon cycle, which starts as a plant draws in solar energy to produce sugar and oxygen through photosynthesis. The plant uses this sugar to build its biomass, which is composed of carbon. The flip side of the carbon cycle occurs when the plant dies and fungi decompose the plant-based organic material, mostly into the soil. Fungi’s role in nutrient cycling is much appreciated among those practicing permaculture and organic gardening.
Academics and citizen scientists are increasingly armed with technology that allows them to see what once was nearly invisible. Their published findings bring to light the delicate dialogues between the very tips of plant roots and fungal hyphae. While folk tales we grew up with convinced us as children that trees can both talk to each other and know when we humans are present, current research seeks to support that story in revealing how plant roots and hyphae connect and then extend the reach of plants beyond the ability of each to transport water and minerals (even, and especially, in times of drought).
“You see, underground there is this other world, a world of infinite biological pathways that connect trees and allow them to communicate and allow the forest to behave as though it’s a single organism,” University of British Columbia forest ecology professor Suzanne Simard said in a June 2016 TED Talk. Her Mother Tree Project, a large-scale scientific field-based experiment exploring connections and communication between trees, which she launched in 2015, resulted in the popular new book, Finding the Mother Tree.
Fungus Fair 2022
The expanding spectrum of interests in fungi will be on display at the 50th Anniversary Mycological Society of San Francisco Fungus Fair on January 23, 2022, at the Orinda Community Center (OCC) in Orinda.
“The spacious OCC campus has open windows and doors that catch the slightest breezes, and we’ll ensure that vendors and the public can easily maintain safe physical distances,” Todd Trimble, the county’s director of Parks and Recreation observes. “Contra Costa health guidelines will prevail!”
That said, check for fair updates at mssf.org. ♦
Contributor KO acquired a new mantra, “Bees, EVs, Fungus, and Me,” after a Maker Faire meeting with John Garrone of Far West Fungi that resulted in returning home with a huge reishi, which revitalized a weak colony of honeybees. A Fungus Fair instigator and current member of Bay Area Applied Mycology (BAAM), KO grows mushrooms at home and participates at Common Culture Labs, exploring mycorrhizae and bacteria to support hive health.
Editorial note: We thank KO for assisting and inspiring the whole fruiting body of stories on Fungus Fair presenters linked below.