LESSONS LEARNED FROM THE ADVANCED MYCORENEWAL COURSE
BY ATHENA VESCOTT AND THE CORENEWAL CREW
We are extremely grateful to all participants of and contributors to the Advanced Mycorenewal Course and New Moon Mycology Summit, held at the White Pine Community Farm in Wingdale, New York, this past August. As we embrace the Fall season, we reflect upon the course and the extraordinary individuals traveling from near and afar to increase their collective knowledge of mycology, share their unique experience and perspective, and expand their understanding of mycorenewal. There was a lot of information covered in a short amount of time, but there were five important lessons I will remember.
1. Embrace Symbiosis: During the course we emphasized the concept of mutually beneficial relationships. Bacteria, plants, and fungi, used in concert, provide benefits and facilitate interactions among members of these biological groups. We also dove into metaphors inherent within the concept of symbioses. As mindful citizens, activists, and remediators, we can tap into mycelial metaphors and be mindful of abundant symbiotic relationships found throughout both social and ecological communities.
2. Do a Thorough Site Analysis: Remediation of a site requires both on-site soil analyses and historical awareness of what previously grew there, as well as other factors impacting the site. We must identify our individual goals for each project and be willing to adapt to unforeseen circumstances as they arise. Through a number of case studies, we highlighted situations which required either a unique approach or adaptive management, in cases where our designs needed to be modified to address unexpected challenges. When designing a restoration project, it is also essential to identify the stakeholders and teams of individuals and groups you will be working with to develop strategies that foster collaborations, respect the needs and values of the local community, and ultimately address the stated goals of that community. We see the value in taking an eco-social and systemic approach to health, community resilience, and ecosystem restoration.
3. Be responsible with Heavy Metals: As allies of the Earth, we strive for holistic remediation and are aware of the cyclical nature of resources; however, we acknowledge positive and negative feedback loops. A “Disposal Zone” or “Sacrifice Space” is a designated location in a garden or site where we may opt to place organic materials such as plants or mushrooms that hyperaccumulate heavy metals. We must also be discerning and remain mindful on a larger scale as to how our decisions affect populations of humans and communities of non-human beings long-term. One member from our course reflected on living in a disposal zone; she expressed concerns about active dumping of pollutants upstream from her home in Philadelphia. As similar situations occur globally and domestically, we reluctantly acknowledge that there remains no shortage of opportunities to restore degraded landscapes or perform remediation on contaminated sites. While partaking in ecological restoration, we strive to understand risks associated with each project, so you may safely work.
4. Personal resilience is incredibly important: You may have difficulty healing the Earth, or addressing the root causes of oppression, if you are unhealthy or have avoided the root causes of disease within yourself, your family, or within your network. While working with pollutants, we are vulnerable to toxin exposure. Therefore, we must use personal protective equipment to safely operate in exposure zones, and provide this gear for our team.
5. Humans are just one of many players in the cycle: The discussions that took place throughout the course provided numerous opportunities to internalize the course content. One discussion from early in the course focused on framing and re-framing the scope and the context of our research. In petri dishes we refer to introducing pollutants and contaminants to mycelium as “training” the mycelium, so that the mycelial culture can adapt or acclimate to growing in an inhospitable environment, and access molecular tools, inherent in their genetic blueprint, to tolerate or use the foreign substance as a food source. In an effort to work with fungi and dilute the sense of power-over and control-of them, we came to the consensus of re-framing the concept of “training” to one of “priming” fungi, or the microbial community, to target anthropogenic compounds.
So What Can We do?
Our role, as remediators and fungal ecophysiologists, is to help prepare the microbial community and the mycelial network to survive, thrive, and interact with their environment. A course participant, and new friend, also proposed the term “transmogrification” in lieu of “degradation;” both of these proposed terms: “priming” and “transmogrification” emphasize the fact that environmental remediation and biodegradation are not the end of the cycle. Ecosystems are ever-changing in their transfer of nutrients. Living organisms which occupy spaces may already be priming the area for the succession of plants and animals to return, after the impact of human interference is ameliorated. This illuminates our role in the cycle.
In ones of the presentations, our facilitator Mia Maltz demonstrated through her research (published in the open access journal PloS One) that habitat fragmentation affects fungi and ecosystem functioning, such as the ability of fungi to produce extracellular enzymes and to decompose plant litter. As fragmentation affects fungi and decomposition, we, as remediators, may assist the succession of evolution by introducing microbial and botanical allies and via creating the conditions conducive for supporting life. We can facilitate these processes by using organic debris and microbial inoculants, such as compost teas or microbial mulches, as well as revegetation, coupled with complementary techniques to foster the remediation of degraded landscapes.
Course participants had the opportunity to learn from a team of people that support bioremediation research in Ecuador. Currently, Lexie Gropper, CoRenewal’s Field Coordinator, works to address concerns of the local inhabitants of both the Sucumbíos and Orellana provinces of Ecuador, many of whom are affected by pollution resulting from activities of Chevron/Texaco. Lexie founded a Mycological Field Station in the region to study the potential uses, and tailor techniques for, conducting mycoremediation of oil pollution in the region, and to provide a sustainable, just, and economically viable food source for local people. The field station is located at Amisacho, a project focused on raising awareness about rainforest restoration in the Amazon by providing the community with educational opportunities, agro-ecological crops, and natural products to maintain both human and forest health. Amisacho, and the newly launched Tour de Esperanza, provides opportunities for our colleagues and allies to experience participatory tourism, while highlighting the reality of the people in Ecuador, as well as their surrounding ecology. Several participants in the Advanced Mycorenewal Course are planning a trip to Sucumbios, as the volunteer house at Amisacho is open to accepting visitors interested in taking part in research and learning about the culture! Find out more here.
“This course has provided me with clarity, as the information presented offered me a comprehensive understanding of remediation. Although there were moments of feeling overloaded with information, I was able to decompress through open-hearted discussions with friends throughout the course. During the week, I was happily stuffed with the nutritious food provided by Seeds of Peace and there was a wonderful feeling of camaraderie with the members of the course. The experience, as a whole, was transformative and I was grateful to attend this course. Camping at the White Pine Community Farm was a nice change from my city life and was truly grounding as I felt connected with myself and with nature. The chirping crickets, fireflies, rolling thunderstorms, and the spontaneous adventure to a nearby waterfall with the group will remain as fond memories in my city heart. Allies of the Earth come from all backgrounds and I am confident as I look forward to implement the skills I have learned from this course.” ---Athena Vescott
“In early August in upstate NY, CoRenewal joined forces with The Mycelium Underground to create a space of learning and creativity in the field of mycology and mycoremediation. Not only did the CoRenewal course expand my mental horizons with seemingly college-level content, presented in a digestible manner, but the course also offered an avenue for personal growth steeped in a strong sense of community. From learning how fungi are able to break down pollutants in soil to exploring dynamics of case studies in mycoremediation from our instructors, my knowledge and feelings around mycoremediation and its effects were expanded. Other in-depth topics included toxicology and mushroom cultivation. With little background in mycology, I found the content of the course to be accessible, though of high academic and applicable caliber. In the beautiful natural setting on White Pine Community Farm in Wingdale, NY, we found space to connect on mycelial and fungal concepts in a natural setting. Bordering deciduous woodland, nestled on the Appalachian trail, the CoRenewal mycoremediation course was graced with rain, and all that rain brings. Speaking, of course, of the vast fungal community that fruited all around the setting of the course. As a budding (or shall I say fruiting) mycologist, the profound potential applications discussed in the course continue to illuminate a brighter path towards hopes of remediating parts of the Earth. Illumination in the community of the course followed a similar path during the week. Running parallel to a creek through the White Pine Farm, a segment of trail was discovered by members of the course to have bioluminescent fungi living upon it. This illuminated fungal path linked the interior of the property to the camping area. Each night, the community members of the mycoremediation course were guided by the illumination of fungi beneath their feet, and, as we walked, many would share what they found inspirational or illuminating within the course. Refining the concept of connections among the fungal community within a larger ecological setting mirrored the strong sense of community within the members and instructors of this mycoremediation course.” ---Eliot Headley