Santa Cruz Fungus Fair 2018 🍄
I attended the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz 2018 Fungus Fair for the first time last weekend. I highly recommend it and plan to go again.
The venue itself was noteworthy: the Louden Nelson Community Center, named after a former slave who donated his estate to the Santa Cruz school district (pdf).
The fair had a large room with several hundred labeled specimens from the Santa Cruz area, grouped by genus and/or tree they’re associated with. I was impressed by the diversity of mushrooms found on a given couple days (all were fresh, and several had started disintegrating) in a given region.
The specimen room also had an identification table staffed by several experts who could identify mushrooms brought in on the day of the fair.
The fair also had two tracks of speakers, main and “Mushrooms 101”. I spent the day attending talks in the latter.
The first talk was “Common Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms of California” presented by Noah Siegel, co-author of Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast. Notes:
- Start with your the deadly ones, notably Death Cap (a “weed” from Europe!) and Deadly Galerina, when learning to identify mushrooms
- In terms of perspective, California has more than 3000 mushrooms (defined as the classic cap and stalk we’d hunt, aka terrestrial) of which 30 or so are edible
- Nothing looks like a Black Trumpet, and they’re delicious, so we might consider a foolproof five. (Professor Clyde Christensen dubbed the Morel, Shaggy Mane, Puffball and Sulfur Shelf as a “foolproof four” that are tasty and easy for beginners to identify.)
The second talk was “An Introduction to Mushroom Cultivation”, presented by Justin Pierce, an officer in the Fungus Federation and member of the spawn lab team at Far West Fungi (FWF). Notes:
- FWF grows mushrooms on mixed hardwood sawdust, sourced from local furnature makers
- FWF has open houses a couple times a year if you’d like to see commercial mushroom production. Visitors can take spent “blocks”. (FWF effectively uses their “mini farms” for commercial production and discards them after two flushes.) We can also make an appointment to pick up blocks outside the open house schedule.
- He inoculated a yard of cheap, dyed wood chips with King Stropharia by simply tossing chunks of inoculated substrate into the dark before heading to work one night. The mushrooms loved whatever was in the yard, fruiting abundantly and sending mycelium into pots on the ground, which then fruited out the top. I was curious about growing King Stropharia outside, but have no experience, so this was reassuring.
- We can buy most of what we need for culturing mushrooms from the local dollar store. Make a glove box from a plastic storage container. Use food storage containers made from #5 (tolerant of sterilization heat!) plastic for culturing containers. Agar is commonly used as a culturing medium, but mashed potatoes work too. Fabric medical tape over a hole melted with a hot nail can be used as functional “gas port” (mushrooms respire like us! Enable oxygen to enter and carbon dioxide to leave, but prevent contaminants from entering). A normal pressure cooker can be used for sterilization, but we just need to be careful of air rushing into the cooker when it’s opened; Stamet’s recommends placing a cloth soaked with alcohol over the vent.
- Most parts of a mushroom can be used to clone the mushroom. Inside your glove box:
- carve a small piece of tissue from inside the cap of the mushroom you want to clone
- place the tissue inside a culturing container
- after hyphae have permeated the culturing medium, use sections of the medium to inoculate jars filled w grain (FWF uses corn)
- once the jar is filled with mycelium, use this “spawn” to inoculate “blocks” of sawdust, straw, etc for mushroom production
- We can sterilize straw by soaking overnight in a bucket filled with water and hydrogen peroxide
Next, Douglas Smith presented “The Mushrooms of Los Trancos, A Local Open Space Area” about his experience studying terrestrial mushrooms in Los Trancos open space preserve. Notes:
- He initially wanted to survey all mushrooms in California, but realized there was so much diversity it’d be impossible, so he reduced his scope to just a single 2 x 3 mile park, which he’s studied for 12 years and is still discovering new varieties.
- He’s performing an informal study, visiting the park 6-10 times per year. He takes a photograph and sample of each species on each visit, and plots observations over time. Some species he’s seen only once. Others he sees on every trip. He’s concerned climate and habitat change may negatively impact fungal diversity, but there are so many factors influencing a mushroom’s appearance, it’s difficult to discern patterns.
- Hearing this talk reminded me of Stewart Brand’s recommendation in Whole Earth Discipline to deeply understand the place we live
- Smith mentioned he had a permit to study off-trail in the preserve, that such permits aren’t widely available, but there’s some movement to create a “hunting” permit for mushrooms, like there is for fish and game
The last talk of the day was Alan Rockefeller’s “Mushrooms of Mexico”. Notes:
- He most recently spent three months in Mexico, which he says has the best mushroom hunting in the world. He described hunting all day, hunting bio-luminescent mushrooms by night, sleeping a few hours and then doing it all again! Many private land owners are open to him hunting on their land. Many mushrooms were previously identified with European names, but are often new species.
- Many people in Mexico are still familiar with mushrooms and forage regularly. There’s a long history of psilocybe use in ritual.
- His standard reporting process:
- Photograph and sample in the field
- Back at the truck, put each sample in a bag w desicant (to prevent liquifaction and disintigration)
- Back online, upload raw photos to Mushroom Observer, which preserves full-size images, enables a community to collaboratively identify and generates a unique observer id that can be used to associate iNaturalist and GenBank records
- Import observations into iNaturalist (which doesn’t save full-size images) from Mushroom Observer to tap into a larger community
- Back at the lab, sequence DNA ($7 if you do it yourself) and upload to GenBank, with the Mushroom Observer observation id
- Alan’s photos are excellent and his talk was full of imagery, humor, cultural awareness and scientific precision
- He also raised awareness of a ballot initiative (pdf) to legalize Psilocybe mushrooms in California. Increased tax revenue, decreased non-violent offenders in jail and recognition of an ancient relationship with a fungal partner. Shipit 🚢
Aside from the talks, there were also several vendors selling clothes, food, kits, books, etc. I got donuts filled with Candy Cap cream and a Porcini shirt from Robyn MacLean. Oh, and there was also a kids room filled with crafts!
The fair promoted an atmosphere of curiosity, community, mutual support and unabashed appreciation of the natural world. Several of the speakers were committed citizen scientists. Inspirational.