In the past few years, mushrooms -- and the vegetative part of the fungus, mycelium -- have been elevated from the underworld. According to mushroom guru Paul Stamets, they're capable of saving the world, in at least six different ways: "mycorestoration" (cleaning up the environment), "mycopesticides" (organic bug killers), "mycofiltration" (silting chemicals from water), breaking down nerve gases, neutralizing smallpox, replacing plastics, etc.
One farmer takes on the American fungi diet
Twenty-five years ago, Ian Garrone started Far West Fungi out of his garage not to save the world, but to introduce America to the wide variety of edible fungi. Today, he grows organic, sawdust-based mushrooms in 60,000 square feet of greenhouses in Moss Landing, California and he and his family sell over 40 different types of speciality mushrooms at their store in San Francisco, a relatively rare offering, given that button mushrooms (the white ones) account for about 87% of all domestic mushroom sales (according to a 2001 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture).
Since specialty mushrooms are fleshier than those conventional white ones, Garrone also sees his mushrooms as an alternative to meat and a way to put more balance in our diets. Mushrooms that grow on trees (the type grown at the Far West Fungi farm) are also considered medicinal. "The reason is is the organism, the fungi, breaks down these hard sugars in the hardwood. In breaking them down, the organism produces mushrooms that are very high in complex sugars called polysaccharides which our bodies use to fight diseases."
Helping San Francisco clean up their last oil spill
While Garrone didn't get into the business to save the world, somehow he's managed to help save his corner of the world. After San Francisco's last oil spill, he helped provide an indigenous strain of oyster mushroom to a bioremediation project -- the mycelium from his oyster mushrooms broke down the oil so it could be composted. Turns out those mushrooms are quite tasty, so Garrone continues to produce 15,000 pounds of this organism on a weekly basis, so if San Francisco asks for help again, he can also provide a lot of this mushroom very quickly.
WATCH:How to farm mushrooms for Slow Food, medicine, bioremediation
Related video from faircompanies
Follow Kirsten Dirksen on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kirstendirksen