by Kristina Chew
Perhaps you only think about mushrooms when one sprouts up in your yard or when you’re ordering a pizza. But they have uses far, far beyond the kitchen:
1) An alternative to styrofoam packaging
Mushroom fibers can be used as an eco-friendly alternative to polystyrene, the synthetic (and potentially carcinogenic) polymer most of us encounter as styrofoam. An upstate New York company, Evocative Design, literally grows its product from corn stalks and vegetable husks injected with mushroom spores; the fibers are grown in molds and then baked in an oven so they have the right texture, hardness and elasticity.
Evocative Design recently made a deal with Sealed Air, a huge packaging wrap (think bubble wrap) company, to build factories that will make Restore Mushroom Packaging. One day, your purchases could arrive not packed in “peanuts” but in actual, biodegradable, mushroom fibers.
2) Oil, diesel and other petrochemical spill clean-up
Mycologist and researcher Paul Stamets was contacted by the EPA after the Deepwater Horizon spill to learn about how mushrooms could be used to clean up petrochemicals via a process called mycoremediation, in which toxic compounds are reduced into harmless ones by fungi. The EPA did not actually use his mushrooms but Stamets has carried on with research should future spills occur, developing strains of oyster mushrooms that can tolerate ocean salinity and metabolize oil that is floating on the surface of the sea.
3) A substitute for chemical fertilizers
Stamets’ company, Fungi Perfecti, also produces what he says is an alternative to fertilizer, Mycogrow. According to some organic farmers, Mycogrow fertilizes plants without causing pollution, says Alternet.
Swiss scientists have found that plants and certain kinds of mushrooms, mycorrhizal fungi, form symbiotic relationships. The fungi acquire nutrients (including, in particular, phosphate) and are therefore able to “act as an extension of plants’ root systems, drastically reducing the need for phosphate fertilizers.”
4) An eco-way to clean up farm waste
In addition, mushrooms could help clean up farm waste: Sacks of mycelia (the vegetative part of a fungus that look like a mass of branching threads) can also be used to filter out toxins and bacteria, says Stamets.
5) A fungal insecticide
Pesticides based on fungi can replace the chemicals currently (and widely) used to kill ants and termites. Some mushrooms and toadstools have been found to contain compounds that, if isolated, could be used in developing insecticides.
6) Garbage disposal
We’re talking garbage on a massive, landfill-size scale: Certain types of mushrooms can break down 90 percent of the materials in dirty diapers in two months. Those diaper-eating fungi would be oyster mushrooms, which can grow on dead trees as they eat cellulose, the main component of disposable diapers.
7) A way to overcome the fear of death
That’s a tall order for a small fungus to fullfil.
Before anyone was worrying about eco-friendly packaging and pesticides, people have been turning to psilocybin mushroom — “magic mushrooms” — for their “transformative” (hallucinogenic) effects. Scientists at Johns Hopkins University say that the psychedelic drug in the mushrooms “reliably induce[d] transcendental experiences in volunteers, which offered long-lasting psychological growth and helped people find peace in their lives — without the negative effects.”
Scientists are trying to find the “sweet spot” that would enable people taking psylocybin to, as Roland Griffiths, professor of behavioral biology, says “optimize the positive persistent effects and avoid some of the fear and anxiety that can occur [when taking the mushrooms].” Ultimately, Griffiths and the other researchers are seeking to find out whether such psychedelic experiences could help people recover from addiction and deal with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
I guess we shouldn’t be surprised if, one day, mushrooms inherit the earth?
Lately I’ve been reading many articles on the subject of home gardens and laws against it. It’s time to change these ridiculous laws! Does it make sense to you to cover your lawn with chemicals and waste so much water just so you can have a greener lawn than your neighbors, or grow vegetables and help your family as well as save money? Of course, if you want a green lawn that is certainly OK, but what if I want to garden in my yard? Shouldn’t that be my choice? I say YES!
Here is one article on the subject:
Cities Continue to Demonize Vegetable Gardens
From 2008 to 2009, home gardening increased from 36 million to 43 million households. It appears to be continuing its upward trend. As Mother Earth News puts it, “The worse the economy, the more people garden.”
Although vegetable gardening is good news for people’s pocketbooks as well as their stomachs, it has created an interesting problem between some city officials and the local gardeners. In what has been dubbed a War on Gardening, many green thumbs across the nation are having to deal with officials who are none-too-impressed with their edible plants.
The trouble occurs when gardeners turn to unconventional places to plant their produce, usually in the front yard. One organization, Food Not Lawns, is devoted to helping gardeners rip up their useless ornamental lawns in favor of growing something you can eat.
The garden starts out innocently enough, in most cases. Usually, the gardens under dispute are very well-maintained and give the appearance of order and organization. However, someone soon calls the city with a complaint. City workers then look up their land development code and issue a citation.
It’s there that the situation gets dicey. The gardener can either comply with the city or face an array of fines, watch as the garden gets cleared by the city, or be confronted with even jail time for their actions.
The most famous case of this concerned Julie Bass, who faced up to 93 days in jail for not removing her front-yard vegetable garden. But gardeners from Orlando to Oklahoma are stirring up an unlikely movement challenging the authorities and calling for others to preserve their right to garden.
One gardener we spoke to related a problem he had with the city of Las Vegas. “[My] garden contained assorted vegetables like beets, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, [and] grape vines in a Pennsylvania topsoil retention method.”
His garden was covered with Bermuda grass to conserve topsoil and water. It was this that officials took offense at, and they wrote him a citation.
“The citation stated “Overgrown area, in need of cutting. Time limit and fine if failed to comply.”
He sent a reply stating that he did not live in a fenced in homeowners association area, and that the inspector did not know the difference between weeds and vegetables. “Two weeks later I received an apology from our city councilman,” he told us.
The question of whether gardeners should be allowed to use their front lawns as plant beds affects more than you may think at first glance. Those against them see them as a threat to property values, a plight on the aesthetics of a neighborhood.
Is there more behind anti-gardeners’ thinking, however? The woman charged with a misdemeanor and threat of jail was told that her garden was not “suitable” for a front yard, with one city official saying that suitable meant “common.” Since ornamental lawns today usually include bermuda grass, a couple of deciduous trees, and perhaps a small row of flowers, that is what everyone should do, the thinking goes. The question then becomes less about personal freedom and more about why we constantly try to define what is normal and acceptable in society.
Perhaps soon officials will realize that organic vegetable gardening is a good thing, and it is here to stay. Until then, there will probably be many more cases of the war on gardening taking place in America.
Check out this town! It is so cool what they have done!
On May 28, 2008, Adam LeWinter and Director Jeff Orlowski filmed a historic breakup at the Ilulissat Glacier in Western Greenland. The calving event lasted for 75 minutes and the glacier retreated a full mile across a calving face three miles wide.