First off, how are you?
Hello! Hello! I’m doing good, busy but really feeling decent these days. Lots going on but the rains are bringing me joy, because they help fruit so many beautiful fungi! It’s been a lovely year for wild mushrooms so far. How’s it going over there?
It’s going well! I agree, the rain is so cleansing. I’m in Brooklyn right now, and there’s something about the weather today that is lending itself to both melancholy and introspection. I’m so excited to talk to you because what you do is very moving to me — teaching people more about mycology — and so I want to know everything.
Tell me, what was your journey to mycology?
Yes the waters! So cleansing, it feels so much better out there after a rinse I tell ya! Thank you for your kind words! I’m just the messenger of the fungi and it’s been such a treat sharing what I love with people and other folks catching on to the divinity of mushrooms and Fungi. I always loved eating mushrooms, in foods, and growing up, my mother, every New Years Day would make this really simple dish with white button mushrooms, parsley, wine and lots of garlic…mind blowing. As I started to steer my studies in community college away from art to more biology, I had some amazing teachers that were walking encyclopedias, they could see anything outside that was wild and tell you its name and everything about it. It was inspiring and mostly because when we started learning about mushrooms and fungi, we found hundreds of varieties and many of them incredible edibles. I’m super into food, grew up in a Greek diner and that’s the way to my heart. So they grabbed my attention and really, I just rabbit-holed myself into their wonder. It’s vast, as we know, mushrooms are beyond food, but medicinal, therapeutic, ecological healers and ceremonial. They are almost infinite in their abilities and their range of existence in so many fields of study and life. It was indeed the love others had for fungi that was contagious and I caught on as well.
This is so concise, I love how you can track your love and interest in mushrooms right from these formative moments like New Years Day meals… Food is a gateway for me as well. I started gaining more interest in mycology/fungi/ the mycelium network through the work of Paul Stamets and Fantastic Funghi recently really blew my mind… just how intelligent this species is. You say you’re a messenger (and I believe it) so was there a moment that you can remember where you felt you had to teach people about this majestic wondrous plant/medicine?
And if so… why? I’m really curious how that journey started for you. Did it feel like a divine calling?
It’s funny because I think it just happened naturally. It’s almost like, every person who does know about Fungi is a teacher because we end up having to explain to folks what they’re looking at all the time hahaha. I would be at markets selling some gathered goods, when I first began my ‘business’ with fungi and half the time it was educating folks, because they would be like, “hey! I saw something like that the other day! What is that?” And you end up giving them a little lesson along the way. Really, though, it was the need for the info in the community around here, the desire to bring other teachers, to host, to learn from too. I definitely put lots of my initial knowledge to the credit of incredible fungal mentors like Ja Schindler of Fungi for the People, who really taught me how to grow mushrooms and encouraged me to share the knowledge as much as possible.
I feel like most people I meet who work with Fungi are teachers, you’re right. I’m also in awe of anyone who dedicates their time, efforts and energy into educating people about this Earth. You’re also right about community — I find there’s something really utopic about Fungi because they have this immense regenerative quality that is so profound — and in conversations even about our ecological future in the face of the current climate catastrophe I believe that Fungi does and will play such a role in how we reimagine the world ahead of us.
Does that resonate with you? Do you agree?
I want to say yes, but I’m also a bit bitter of green washed models of what our future could be like. I think we know what it could look like, because the models are present all over the world in various pockets of areas left alone from so-called ‘progress.’ Like, that recent Elon Musk tweet he’s offering tons of money to combat the climate crisis and it’s like, JUST PLANT TREES! LOL It’s the Industry fucking shit up, and they just want their little green washed eco campaign to make their other awful practices seem less terrible? Idk im pretty ‘anti civilization’ in the sense that so much is caused by immense industrial frameworks for everything we do and consume, I think it’d be way better if it didn’t exist at all LOL but obvs that’s not reality and we live in the so called late stages of capitalism, do I think mushrooms are going to make greedy jerks not mess the planet up? I don’t think so. I think there’s this boom for profit that just won’t let up. Do I want there to be a better ecological future? Sure do! But until we really see that, the pipelines are still being built, by the same companies selling green energy, giving us the ‘alternatives’ when really Mama Earth provides all. We’re so detached. It’s hard and it’s also just the systems in place, it’s hard to escape the rat race as they say. There’s tons of privilege that exists with this notion of returning to the land, growing food, growing mushrooms, etc because that’s not a reality that everyone can do, and sometimes the folks that were living on the land good, get displaced by giant energy projects, pipelines, developments, hotels etc. I’ll also say that, Paul’s youtube video about ‘mushrooms saving the Earth’ is deflective, it puts huge pressure and hope that one organism is going to save us, a ‘cure all’ if you will and it’s not that simple. I mean it almost is, but most don’t want to have that convo; abolition of the military, prisons and what was it? 70 companies responsible for the rest of the ecological crisis? It puts this personal responsibility on the US when it’s really on THEM.
Yes, I absolutely feel you. Late stage capitalism is really an interesting beast because it really wants to take the planet down and doesn’t care if it extracts the entire Earth for resources, it’s a devastating reality we live in right now but I guess it’s funny I’ve been thinking about the future a lot as I’m writing my fourth book on the wellness industrial complex (called Who Is Wellness For?) so I’m examining the question of futurity a lot. I absolutely believe we can only have a future on this planet by collapsing predatory Capitalism (though I don’t believe an ~ ethical alternative ~ which I’m sure they’ll try to sell us will work when our planet is literally melting) and that’s really the only way. Because… what happens when power lines go down, or labor workers can’t work — Capitalism relies on cheap labor and the “compliance” of the Earth… and I actually feel her saying NO. Like a big booming NO. And I think she’s going to keep saying NO! NO! NO! Until we are forced to stop and reconsider. So yes… absolutely feel you on the reality we are living, but I think that future relies so much on the hope that we can collapse and reimagine… without greenwashing but by actually collapsing and reinstating new paradigms. I feel like that’s what your work is doing on a community level… by educating people you’re giving them an entry point to their own liberation from Capitalism in a way!!!
So what do you think are steps we can take for anyone who reads this to engage with Fungi in a holistic way? I feel like learning how to be with these medicines is definitely a step toward redefining the right relationship to the Earth.
Study them and all their relatives. Study the trees, smell the flowers, feel plants. Listen to the birds and go outside and see the Earth resisting the concrete and the flowers that make their way to every corner of the city and beyond. We need to listen, and you’re right, Earth is saying, NO NO NO! And we need to hear that and protect Earth at all costs. We need to connect to teachers and folks who are sharing. Obviously that could get tricky cuz the internet is filled with a wide range of info and content. I luckily did start learning about Fungi, kind of before there was much internet content out there and I began learning from folks in local mushroom clubs. It really is a great way to connect and learn. They know their stuff. It is definitely a more colonized approach to Mycology; most mushrooms are picked, identified, placed in herbariums and stored. But it’s a stepping stone to get comfy and maybe find your fungi crew to connect with. It’s a matter of time, we find each other. Sadly, clubs are very apolitical. They won’t talk about deforestation or climate crisis because this older boomer model, ‘leave politics’ out of it’ let me have my club time, when the habitats they like gathering from are under serious attack and gone. Thankfully now though, with the help of the internet, we have found more rad, inclusive spaces to adore fungi and study. I’m grateful to many teachers like the folks over at the POC Fungi Community, Mama Maiz and countless BIPOC Earth stewards leading the way. Showing me and my community how to navigate with more care and connection. It’s been a journey for me, if we spoke 15 years ago, I would of told you I wanted to be the next Paul Stamets, seriously, now, with the grace and guidance of incredible people everywhere, my growth within the fungal centric world, I tend to be steered away from his model and more of a smaller, diverse, decentralized and interconnected one. I want discussions around water and land rights to be part of the conversation when we talk about fungi, when we talk about mushrooms at the store or in the packets. Where did they come from? There’s tons of mushroom companies out there right now and I’m def in favor of supporting smaller growers and folks making noise for change. Like, I don’t know about you, but I want to give money to people doing rad work, advocating for police abolition, the end to corporate welfare and a real eco centric paradigm.
I think that’s why your work shows the radicality of fungi—because what is it if not a confrontation of death? I’ve been thinking about death awareness a lot as a way to navigate thwarting Capitalism. Everything you’re speaking to as well — abolition of cops, of prisons, of Capitalism, of these industrial complexes that need to collapse — is all a part of the future of Fungi to me, because with that very praxis of mycology there seems to be an intelligent system that though might not have all the answers how they respond and communicate with each other, at the very least, to me, is a radical way of showing how to learn from them.
Thank you for this conversation. It’s been so healing.
One last question, I want to know through all of this radical work that’s being done and needs to be done, how do you center and take care of yourself? This journey towards ~ the collective anti-Capitalist future ~ is a long one. How do you harness yourself for it? Do you use daily tinctures? Are there particular blends or fungi you would recommend for caring for yourself and your community through fungi?
Are there any smaller growers you would also recommend? Folks that you would recommend others looking into?
THANK YOU SO MUCH!
Yes, we definitely gotta decompose, myceliate the system and rebuild from that rot! Rot can be good and I hope we can get more comfy having conversations like this. Here, in the West there is this innate fungiphobic mindset that has stemmed from our fear of death and the unknown and I appreciate you bringing that up. Fungi are mystics and carriers of so much knowledge, bridging all the topics, all the waters, all the conversations and I think we gotta honor that. The medicine that I try to connect with is honoring my one commitment to take a walk in the woods at least once a week. It’s something I’ve been really trying to make sure I do for at least an hour a week. I know that might seem bizarre because I work with mushrooms, but sometimes, the farming and the business side steals the original joy, which was walking around, seeing what was growing, which is just such a delight. It’s new every time. It’s very stimulating and sometimes ya just end up picking berries or watching woodpeckers, heck or getting bit by a tick too, it’s not always a dreamy landscape. When I do get the need to take medicine, I really like Turkey Tail mushrooms, they are incredible. I could talk about them for an hour on their own. I’m also really excited about growing cordyceps, and playing with different extractions with them. I love all mushrooms, they’re hard to pick. I tend to work with mostly polypore fungi, reishi, maitake, turkey tail and violet toothed polypore. I love chaga but I dont offer it anymore because I’m getting so shaken up by the massive extractive industry that’s just getting bigger and bigger. The Chaga ‘fruit’ is only found in the wild and it makes me really scared to think how much of it exists on shelves of stores right now. When I am stressing about climate collapse, I tend to take some roses, elder flowers, tulsi, various herbal essences and lots of cannabis. Thank gawd for cannabis. Also lots of water, tons, and with lots of lemon. Hot water with lemon is my go to.
As far as growers and makers, it’s almost impossible to not find a local mushroom farm at this point. There’s been a boom of mushroom farms and businesses. I def encourage folks to visit their local farm markets and see who is growing what. It’s a great way to get really fresh produce and foods. I love so many people doing so much amazing work, growing and sharing with their communities. Herban Cura does a phenomenal job offering classes and they also have a great line of extracts called BRUJAS that has both botanical and fungi extracts. William Padilla Brown, has an assortment of high concentrated extract of medicinals, very techy, and inspiring. Out West in Oregon, ZoomOut Mycology offers kits and medicinal teas and extracts. Our fam down in Southern California, as mentioned POC FUNGI Community provides classes, medicine and resources to BIPOC communities to get into fungi. For any mushroom cultivation classes I really do suggest the school at Fungi for the People, Ja and Val are incredible teachers and you will not regret it. It’s very loaded with info and most folks out there aren’t offering a course for 7 days which includes meals and camping. TBH I took Paul Stamets classes 12+ years ago and looking back, it was not worth it. It’s a bit of a novelty class, there were no real hands-on demos, no interactive way to learn. Very formal, and standardized. Basically save the bucks and learn from smaller growers, his books tend to leave folks thinking they gotta drop $20k to grow a mushroom, that’s not the case. They literally can grow on most water streams. One of my current favorite cultivation books out there right now, is DIY Mushroom Cultivation By Willoughby Arevalo, who is soo talented and hilarious.
Thanks so much for this opportunity. Appreciate you