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Fantastic Mr. Fungus


Written by Plant With Purpose on August 3, 2009 in General

by Aly Lewis

It’s a blue whale…it’s the Great Barrier Reef…it’s a giant aspen grove! Guess again, the world’s largest living organism is actually a fungus. Armillaria ostoyae, to be precise.

Commonly known as the honey mushroom, this giant fungus feeds off of the earth and tree roots in the Malheur National Forest in eastern Oregon, has been estimated to be about 2,400 years old and spans 2,200 acres. Additionally, the fungus performs important functions in the forest ecosystem such as fostering nutrient recycling and subsequently providing habitats for animals. Impressive for a low-life.

Speaking of fungi, I would like to introduce you to a little known Plant With Purpose project: mushroom modules. I know, I know, the term mushroom module means next to nothing to the average lay person, non-mycologist, but hear me out.

In 2003, Plant With Purpose initiated its first mushroom project to help rural Mixtec farmers in Oaxaca, Mexico supplement their diet and income. The project, a part of PWP’s integrated approach to poverty alleviation, is a sustainable way for farmers to complement their diet and meet their basic needs.

PWP provides technical training and expertise on the cultivation of nutrient-rich oyster mushrooms. Although not as impressive as the giant honey mushroom, oyster mushrooms are a good source of fiber, protein, and even potassium and selenium, nutrients that protect against strokes, reduce blood pressure, and rid the body of harmful free radicals. While we may think of mushrooms as a nice addition to a salad or burger, for the rural farmers of Oaxaca where daily multivitamins aren’t just a quick trip to the drug store away and 76.9% of the population of Oaxaca suffers from malnutrition (SiPaz), mushroom growing can be a life-saving production.

Mushrooms grow best in cool, dark, and damp environments, so farmers use available rooms and sheds to start their “modules.” One of the coolest aspects of the projects is that farmers are able to use leftover cornhusks and corncobs—a readily available resource—to act a substrate, or the surface on which the mushrooms can grow. Mixtec families are now including mushrooms in their traditional egg and tortilla dishes, and the diet delicacy is beginning to catch on. Additionally, families can sell their excess mushrooms in local markets to generate income. PWP has worked directly with Oaxacans to establish 15 mushroom modules, and even more families have begun their own mushroom modules as program beneficiaries share their knowledge and expertise with friends and neighbors.

This innovative mushroom project is just one the many ways PWP partners with local communities to improve their quality of life and foster self-sufficiency. Now that you know more about fungi than you were probably hoping, I’d like to leave you with a bad joke because I just can’t resist:

Why did Freddy Fungus divorce Anne Algae?

-Because their marriage was on the rocks.


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