From Macro to Myco: Rebalancing Ecosystems with Fungi

The small but powerful team of Urban Village Design convened on the weekend to attend a workshop given by Jonathan of Evolved Mushrooms and Trevor of Bridgetown Mushrooms on Mushroom Cultivation. We were all very excited for our 6 hour day with the promise of some hands-on learning and plenty of room for questions.

I started my love affair with mycology a couple years ago. When I attended Peter McCoy’s Radical Mycology Convergence, my eyes were opened to a whole culture of scientists, activists, home cultivators, and those of us just curious enough to poke our heads through the door. Since then I have seen the general interest in mycology very nearly explode. Everyone from farmers to architects seem to have heard the word “mycelium.”

As a Permaculture-focused landscaping company, our primary interest in mycology has to do with mycoremediation, which essentially is the process of rebalancing ecosystems using fungi. But we’re also looking at how we can create landscapes that draw interaction, awareness, and increased health to our clients. Mushrooms (the reproductive part of certain kinds of fungal organisms) produce an incredible array of beneficial compounds that can boost our immune systems and help our bodies better adapt to stress.

The fungal queendom is vast and mysterious, leaving a world of unknowns to delve into for amateur mycologists wishing to get nerdy and dirty. To quote McCoy:

“Of the 15 million species estimated to live on Earth, as many as 6 million may be a fungus. Of these, only 75,000 - or around 1.5% of all fungi - have been classified to date. Few of these have been studied beyond their basic form and function, and less than 100 species have been significantly integrated into human activities. Only about a dozen are commonly cultivated and just seven mushroom species are grown on a mass scale, a small reflection of our limited understanding of their ways and offerings.”

So while we don’t know much about individual species, we are starting to gain some insight into how the diversity and density of microbial life in soil, plants, and animals (including humans) is so important to healthy ecosystems. We are part of a network of interconnections. We were born from soil, and, if our current systems weren’t getting in the way of it, each of us would return to soil. We consume lives in order to live, and will, one day, give back in reciprocity our borrowed bodies. This is the way of all life. We are woven like threads into the cycles of birth and death. And at that door between worlds stand fungi, ready to receive and break down the components of living structures into food for those next in line.

The question I keep coming back to is: how do we, as land stewards, use our strength, skills, hearts, and minds to bring healing to systems that have been broken through toxic concentrations and disconnection from natural cycles?

In determining how we can create whole, healthy systems, arguably the most vital component we must look at is fungi and bacteria. We are trying to bridge the gap left in ecosystems by disruptive practices such as laying down concrete and hauling away fallen leaves. To do this practically, we amend the soil with layers of organic materials such as wood chips, leaf mulch, and compost to provide a rich environment for beneficial microbes to thrive. Essentially we are doing what nature would be doing without our interference - putting nutrients back into the soil so the cycle can continue.

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