Mushroom education and the evolution of Fungi Ally
Fungi Ally has evolved over the last 6 years of being in business. Mushroom education has been a consistent theme throughout our existence. As a farm we started growing mushrooms in 2013 on logs. We inoculated 400 logs with shiitake and oyster, and in the year waiting for colonization Willie attended several workshops and internships starting his formal mushroom education. Willie begun to learn how to cultivate mushrooms for a farm, home grower, and during an internship at Aloha Medicinals how mycelium is grown for medicinal mushroom supplements. Informative mushroom offerings were minimal on the east coast so as the farm started to grow mushrooms we also offered workshops and classes. In the fall of 2014 Willie got an opportunity to bring mushroom education to Umass, teaching a 1 credit course to college students. This class would continue each semester for four years. This allowed Willie to experiment with different methods and content to effectively teach mushroom education.
Previous Mushroom Education
In 2015 in collaboration with then co-owner of Fungi Ally Dylan Kessler we received our first SARE grant looking at different methods of treating straw for oyster cultivation. Through this grant we hosted several workshops and attended conferences focusing on oyster mushroom cultivation and information. During this trial we found lime treatment to be the best method for oyster cultivation. We also built our second grow room in a tobacco barn.
In the fall of 2015 Fungi Ally launched a Kickstarter to create a mushroom lab and reach a broader audience. At this time we were cultivating about 100+ pounds of mushroom per week in a basement grow room that was about 16×8. In this size room we maxed out growing about 125-150 pounds of mushrooms per week. To continue growing the mushroom farm and reach more people through mushroom education we moved locations into a 3000 square foot warehouse. In April of 2016 Dylan left Fungi Ally moving out to the Boston area with his wife.
With the focus on mushroom education ever growing in 2015 and 2016, Fungi Ally held two multi-day courses on mushroom cultivation, consumption, and foraging. The first was with Radical Mycology in support of creating the Radical Mycology book. The second was led by Willie, allowing students to have a full concept of what mushrooms are and how to cultivate them in the method that works best for their situation.
2016 and 2017 were years of constant growth learning the drawbacks and joys that come with commercial mushroom farming. Harvesting hundreds of pounds of mushrooms grown from a petri plate, getting massive contamination, not being able to sell mushrooms in the cooler weather, and all the ups and down of running a business. Mushroom education took a little bit of a back seat and Willie begun teaching online through Umass and Cornell. Two classes were offered each winter with each university. The class with Cornell is still being taught now and online mushroom education classes are also offered through the Fungi Ally website.
Mushroom education through grants
SARE has funded 5 grants through Fungi Ally, allowing education to expand and grow.
2015- Oyster mushroom cultivation
2016- shiitake strain selections
2018- cordyceps mushroom cultivation
2019- Bee health impacted by mushroom extracts
2019- Increasing mushroom production in the northeast. This grant is current and is increasing the amount of mushroom education Fungi Ally is involved with. Webinars and in person workshops will be conducted between fall of 2019 and spring of 2020. Technical assistance will be offered to 10 farmers who agree to grow 30-50 pounds per week during the year of 2020.
The present state
In 2018, commercial production of mushrooms was up to about 400 pounds a week and online sales of spawn and grow kits continued to grow. Through business consultation with True North, a Vipassana retreat, and much curiosity of how to best live life, Willie decided to move away from commercial production and focus on mushroom education. This switch has allowed more flexibility and personal communication about mushrooms. Hopefully it encourages more and more people to grow or work with fungi in the end, allowing much more than 500 pounds per week to be grown.
Fungi Ally aims to continue gathering people around mushrooms and educating about the beauty and utility mushrooms have to offer. On scales ranging from industrial to the back yard, fungi have an important place to play as we try to guide our culture to more sustainability and connection. Fungi model in ecosystems how to reduce and utilize waste. Mycorrhizal fungi illustrate how all beings are connected, trading information and resources between individuals. Fungi can also play a key role in supporting human health and increasing the food source for an aging and growing population. Relationships in our daily lives, in our work, with our food, with our medicine is what really counts. And fungi show this, they have an intimate inseparable relationship with their food and environment. Here at Fungi Ally we aim to help people build more relationships with other people and fungi creating an ally out of mystery.
Learn More About Growing Mushrooms
Willie has been growing mushrooms in a variety of methods for the last four years. He is a co-founder of Fungi Ally and is involved with research, education, and mushroom production. Through study and experience Willie hopes to continue learning the diverse methods people can improve themselves and the world through allying with fungi!