The Silent Life of Mushrooms
by Justen Deason
Of the six kingdoms of life, fungi have one kingdom entirely unto themselves. They are far more similar to animals then they are to plants. This organism is believed to exist within every ecosystem across the globe; even the deep ocean. In fact fungus and its relatives are a pivotal part of the foundation for life on earth together with bacteria. Scientific evidence is continually revealing these organisms as being nature’s strongest decomposers and actual stewards of plant life in combination with other microbes, forming incredible symbiotic relationships that benefit entire ecosystems. In Colorado, the red spotted mushroom help maintain our pine forests.
Many species that live with trees will nurture them in life, and decompose them in death. A lab study found a symbiotic mycelia colony literally moving water, nutrients and plant sugars around a garden to ensure all the sapling trees in the study, whether shaded, starved or lacking water, were all maintained equally. The survival rate in these plants jumped to 80%.
Fungal life starts out as a microscopic spore, one of billions, all lighter than smoke. They float about, sometimes across oceans until they land. Since they do not gain the benefit of a yolk, like a plant seed or egg, conditions must be just right for growth. If the environment is correct, and nutrients are readily available, these spores grow into mycelia, a thread-like organism. The mycelia meet, clamp together, and form what is known as a colony. The colony continues its advance through the soil, exchanging genetic information, nutrients and water amongst itself and whatever plant life and microbes it shares a symbiosis with.
What we know as a mushroom, the thing we eat, is merely the reproductive body, like a fruit that produces a seed. Even common culinary mushrooms, like the White Button or Oyster, contain incredible compounds that promote healing throughout the entire body. Mushrooms are comprised of at least 30% – 45% ‘high quality’ proteins and contain numerous medicinal compounds, vitamins and minerals, even Vitamin D if exposed to sunlight during growth!
Fungus has filled almost every niche imaginable. From shepherding forests to fermenting beer and even consuming insects exclusively!
As Mycelium grow and explore their environment, they encounter new organisms, food sources and settings. It creates digestive enzymes, antibiotics and genetics to deal with these problems on the fly. When it has found a solution, it sends the ‘recipe’ back through the colony. A similar thing happens when Mycelium symbiotic to a plant species meet at the root tip. The fungus often gives the plant information to create an immune response to local pests, disease or environmental factor if the fungus found a solution.
Mycelia have been shown to intelligently navigate mazes. Their pathways mimic the same neurological ones in the brain, ‘firing’ in the same way as well. In fact, their structure follows the same golden rule of energy dispersal found throughout the Universe.
“I believe that Mycelium is the neurological network of nature. Interlacing mosaics of Mycelium infuse habitats with information-sharing membranes. These membranes are aware, react to change, and collectively have the long-term health of the host environment in mind. The Mycelium stays in constant molecular communication with its environment, devising diverse enzymatic and chemical responses to complex challenges.” ― Paul Stamets, Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World
In simpler terms, fungus may be like Gaia manifested. I think the movie Avatar was on to something. I hope to ‘teach’ our own colonies, perpetuated through successive generations, how to consume the agriwaste we have for it. I will expose colonies to our environment and integrate them throughout our property, in the hope they learn how to strengthen our plants and ourselves as we consume them. In this way I might nurture a strong ally that will help grow and protect our land for years to come. I don’t know if anything like this has been done before. Mushrooms have been domesticated and farmed in sterile isolation for food. Mushrooms have been cultivated in the lab and released to repair the environment by removing industrial toxins and disease; but I haven’t yet found someone who has attempted to ‘localize’ a species as it would naturally to an environment while still cultivating it for food, byproduct and environmental stewardship.
Mission at Sunrise Ranch
Together with Derik, our Garden Manager, I want to share my personal love, research and experience cultivating culinary mushrooms as a hobby at home and to Sunrise on a professional scale. This project will eventually become self-sustaining and a source of pride and numerous resources for the community.
We can create an efficient, inexpensive and renewable cultivation process that can be shown as an example to other communities and groups of people locally and internationally. Mushroom cultivation ties directly into our ranch by reducing our collective agriwaste and trash and quickly converts it into usable byproduct for our animals, garden and soil in the form of bioavaliable compost, mulch and fodder. Not to mention producing a variety of delicious and exotic foodstuffs for our kitchen and community!
Eventually this program can be taken a step further and coupled with fermentation or inoculation, creating other foodstuffs such as tempe, kombucha and more. Mushroom species can be combined with permaculture in an ever increasing number of innovative ways.
Bioneers have created simple systems to help protect local bee populations and improve local water quality. Powerful medicinal mushrooms are used in teas and in other forms as medicine that provide immune and liver support, detox free radicals and promote brain health and longevity. Crafts such as dyes and papermaking are also possible.
I plan to integrate fungal allies into many aspects of our garden and ranch system over time. Across the earth, I believe fungus is as vital to our future as it has unknowingly been to our past. They’ve helped cultivate life across the planet and fit so naturally into our farm system. I trust that in time, we will discover even more benefits on our ranch than we can imagine now. I also believe, as the decades move on in this new era of humanity, fungus will become a pivotal part of the organic and spiritual human society we are creating.
There may be a scientific explanation for the joy of plunging your hands into rich garden soil—and it’s not just because it reminds you of making mud pies as a kid.
According to a recent article on Gardening Know How, Mycobacterium vaccae is a microbe that stimulates serotonin production and happens to be found in soil. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, but it’s produced in your gut, along with dozens of other neurotransmitters and beneficial bacteria.
Fortunately, this doesn’t mean you have to eat a mud pie in order to experience happiness from M. vaccae. Gardening with bare hands is enough to allow these bacteria to enter your system and start reducing anxiety, boosting your mood, and even assisting the brain’s learning abilities. In lab experiments, mice injected with M. vaccae responded to stress tests as if they had been given antidepressant drugs.
Ready to get your hands dirty and experience the joy of working in an organic garden? Sunrise Ranch is now accepting applications for Farm/Garden internships. The program begins April 6 and lasts 7 months. For more information or to apply, visit our Farm/Garden internship page.
Organic gardening and humane animal treatment have always been cornerstones of Sunrise Ranch’s operations. We’re strong believers in the connection between nourishing food and spiritual well-being, so it makes sense to put healthy, satisfying meals at the top of our priority list.
There’s no doubt about it: humanity is making a great shift in consciousness. We’re beginning to realize that we have an interactive relationship with nature and the world around us. How can we feed ourselves properly while preserving land for future generations? How can we live harmoniously with the earth without feeling like we’re making a major sacrifice?
Sunrise Ranch is constantly looking for creative ways to answer these questions, and we’ve found that a sacred approach to food leads to healthier, happier people and a healthier, happier planet.
Here are just a few of the ways our chefs and gardeners see the paradigm shift happening with food at Sunrise Ranch and the rest of the world:
|Totally outdoor gardening
||Year-round growing opportunities in our new greenhouses
|Regular soil and average nutrient content in plants
||More nutrient-dense produce, thanks to the application of minerals such as:
- volcanic and glacial rock dusts
- rock phosphate
- seaweed, kelp and mineral salts
|Tilled soil for garden beds
||Build growing beds with compost and hay on top of the soil to avoid soil erosion and preserve beneficial microbes
|A secular-minded kitchen
||A kitchen that acknowledges, respects and upholds the sacred
|Food used as a commodity, to be consumed only as a way to fuel the body
||Food seen as a gift from the earth with the capacity to uplift the mind, heart and soul
|Consuming inert oils that are refined and devoid of nutrition
||Using cold pressed and therapeutic oils for the purpose of enhancing health and well-being
|Food produced by the industrial food complex
||An organic food supply grown by conscientious growers, manufacturers and distributors
|Buying animal products for consumption
||Raising animals on our own organic, holistically managed pastures
|Food trucked or flown in from thousands of miles away
||Food grown locally: first from our own valley, next from Colorado, and then from within a 700 mile radius
|Overgrazing animals on pasture, which exhausts the land and inhibits future grazing
||Holistically planned grazing; getting animals to the right place, at the right time, for the right reasons, with the right behavior
|Raising pigs in a pen
||Incorporating Joel Salatin’s pastured pig approach, where pigs utilize the open lands of our valley
Let’s get back to nature and reacquaint ourselves with the simple, tried-and-true methods of food production that have produced a bountiful planet for hundreds of years. The new paradigm is already manifesting itself—what practices have you adopted to be part of this exciting new vision for food?
Special thanks to Garden Manager Derik Lane, Chef Joseph Forest, and Director of Operations Michael Costello for contributing to this post.
On Feb. 1, Sunrise Ranch Sous Chef Ace Linne-Speidel will team up with the Rocky Mountain Institute of Meat (RMIM) to offer an introductory butchering demonstration and public class to be hosted at Sunrise Ranch. Linne-Speidel will work side-by-side with students over the weekend, then develop his butchering skills further with a 6-week course at RMIM. Sunrise Culinary caught up with Linne-Speidel to find out what fuels his passion for butchering—and how he intends to influence the Sunrise Ranch kitchen and Culinary Academy.
Sunrise Culinary: What do you envision for the Feb. 1 class?
Linne-Speidel: It’ll be a big day of collaboration between Sunrise Ranch and RMIM, a one-day showcase of what they do and what we do here at the Ranch. We use a holistic approach to the cow and farming, one that’s natural and sustainable. Their focus is ethical slaughtering and butchering. We’ll show people with a demo how to break down a cow: what the different cuts are and what we can do with them. We’ll show the pasture-to-table aspect of it.
Sunrise Culinary: What do you hope to bring to Sunrise Ranch and the Culinary Academy program as a result of this collaboration with RMIM?
Linne-Speidel: The goal of bringing people here is education. Butchering is a lost art. People don’t know how to do it anymore. The goal with bringing RMIM here is to educate, because we really believe in empowering ourselves to help each other flourish. We’re bringing in people who know how to do things we don’t, in order to broaden our horizons. Besides, it’s cheaper if you know how to break down a chicken yourself rather than buying pre-packaged products. It is also more respectful to the animal and supportive of the local farms. The goal is to teach the full pasture-to-table process here on our property.
Sunrise Culinary: How much of the future RMIM-hosted classes will be hands-on learning at Sunrise Ranch?
Linne-Speidel: Most of it will be hands-on learning. The skill and education the RMIM guys are bringing is immense. My plan is to teach the culinary students here butchering skills, but the community benefits from that also. For example, we want to be able to use the chickens on our farm for our community. We need people learning new skills to complete that process.
Sunrise Culinary: How did you find out about the 6-week RMIM course?
Linne-Speidel: I found out about RMIM about 6 months ago. I started to realize that my favorite part of a kitchen is butchering, and there’s a serious need for that in this area. There is a real need for people that are qualified, educated and able to do it. I heard Mark DeNettis [of RMIM] was the best butcher in Denver, so I texted him. Three or four weeks later, I’m sitting down having pizza with him and talking about taking classes with him. He asked me if I wanted to be a teacher’s aide because he had an upcoming class and he knew I had experience in the kitchen, so I started going there to help. I wanted to do something different.
Sunrise Culinary: What might surprise people about butchering?
Linne-Speidel: It’s not as easy as it looks! People like to talk about how animals need to be treated respectfully and humanely, but when you’re down at the farm, it’s entirely different. When you’re down there at the chicken coops or the pastures and you’re getting to know the animals, you realize they have different personalities. So you get to know all that about them and then leave the animal to be slaughtered. I have gained respect for the art and craft of butchering. It’s so much a part of what I do on a daily basis now.
Sunrise Culinary: What is the most important thing you’ve learned so far?
Linne-Speidel: I’ve learned there is a lot I don’t know. [laughs] Food is really about collaboration. It’s about community here—the relationship between myself and the garden or the Ranch team, my relationship between myself and RMIM. I can’t do what I want to do with butchering without the farm team or Mark at RMIM in Denver.
Sunrise Culinary: How do you expect to be challenged as you teach butchering?
Linne-Speidel: I really want to teach personal confidence in the kitchen and convey respect for the life that was given on the cutting board. We’re becoming more and more detached from our food source, and we need to bring that back home. It’s something you teach in your actions, and for me that’s going to be very hard to teach without words. A chef instructor’s job is to give the students the tools to empower themselves to become confident in what they do.
Sunrise Culinary: How will your butchering education with RMIM affect SR Culinary Academy?
Linne-Speidel: Right now, the Academy’s focus is on the garden, but farm-to-table is really scratch cooking at its most basic, so it makes sense to bring that to livestock as well. That will make our community more self-sustaining. Not only will we be teaching our Culinary Academy students, but we’ll be offering our classes to the public as well. There would be lessons like breaking down a whole cow, chicken, lamb or pork, plus sausage making. I am imagining a 2-week intensive course where people stay at the Ranch and focus on professional butchering.
Sunrise Culinary: Any cooking advice you could share with our readers?
Linne-Speidel: Use bacon fat for everything! Fry your eggs and even pancakes in it. Smear it over homemade bread dough before baking. You can substitute bacon fat for almost any other fat.
Join Linne-Speidel and RMIM for their public butchering class on Feb. 1 from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Sunrise Ranch, located west of Loveland, Colorado. Tuition is $135 and includes lunch and dinner. To register, call 970-679-4244.
submitted by Jerry Kvasnicka
I am open to inspiration and insight from any source, and so when a catalog of bumper stickers arrived in the mail for me one day, I decided to open it instead of instinctively throwing it into the recycling bin. I was delightfully surprised by the treasury of wisdom that I found, and I now keep the catalog of these succinct gems on top of my desk so that I can quickly bring them up to illustrate and drive home points I’m seeking to make in casual conversation or more public statements.
Bumper stickers seem to have a marvelous ability to reduce a fact or principle to essence and convey the result in a form that, though possibly provocative, is generally palatable and often quite amusing. As I’ve had a life-long interest in metaphysics and spirituality, I find these pithy little messages particularly suitable for challenging fundamentalist extremism and separating genuine spirituality from religious facades and pretensions. So here are some of my favorites:
WE ARE SPIRITUAL BEINGS HAVING A PHYSICAL EXPERIENCE
Our essence is spiritual, not physical. We are here in physical form on earth to release and experience this spiritual essence. We are certainly not the products of evolution out of primeval slime. We as creator beings were here first and the rest of creation in effect devolved out of us. Yet human beings have believed and acted as though exactly the opposite were true—that they somehow evolved out of lower forms of life and are thereby relegated to a subhuman existence that must forever struggle to rise out of the human condition, perhaps only in some kind of heavenly afterlife.
No, it is right here on earth that we belong. This is the arena for action; this is why we incarnated—to bring heaven down here. Human religions have, in effect, turned the bumper sticker around: WE ARE PHYSICAL BEINGS TRYING TO HAVE A SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE. When this physical origin of human beings is accepted, the only recourse for attempting to experience something spiritual is for the human mind to develop concepts and beliefs of what it thinks spirituality might be like. So this is what it has done and this is what religions are—piles and piles of human concepts, fabrications, by-products of human imagination. Considering the deplorable world of illusion that has been created on this basis, isn’t it about time we got back to reality? WE ARE SPIRITUAL BEINGS HAVING A PHYSICAL EXPERIENCE!
WHEN YOU’RE OVER THE HILL, YOUR SPEED PICKS UP
It is commonly assumed that as you age, you slow down, physically, mentally and in every other way. But I’m discovering that those who are spiritually alive, who are aligned with the creative process of life, actually pick up speed in terms of mental and even physical dexterity, artistic ability and across-the-board creative capacity. I’m now in my seventy-second year, no doubt qualifying for over-the-hill status, and while there are a few physical tasks that I now find slightly challenging, the rest of my capacities are fully on line. And then some! Wisdom does indeed come with age, and with wisdom comes an acceleration of creative output.
The increase of speed that is possible to older individuals is also possible to older organizations, older communities and older movements, provided once again that they are spiritually aligned with the way things work. The spiritual community where I live (Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, Colorado) is now sixty-eight years old, probably one of the oldest intentional communities in the United States. The communal wisdom accumulated over these years has allowed for an expansion of our capacity to welcome and encompass people. We frequently host groups of around one hundred people for a week or ten days at a time, and last summer Sunrise was the setting for the Arise Festival, bringing several thousand people to our land. In these “senior years” our speed has definitely picked up!
GET INVOLVED…THE WORLD IS RUN BY THOSE WHO SHOW UP
Several years ago, being unemployed and having very little money, I applied for a job as a janitor and was hired. My initial assignment was just two nights a week cleaning the offices of a power company. Turnover among janitorial employees is high because many just don’t show up consistently. Because I consistently showed up I was promoted to three nights a week as part of a crew cleaning a large recreational facility, and then a few months later I was made supervisor of a six-person team cleaning an enormous computer manufacturing complex five nights a week. I don’t believe my success in this field was due to any particular cleaning prowess but rather to the realization by the owners of the janitorial company that they had a “golden employee,” a man who unfailingly showed up for every job, always ahead of time, and followed through until everything was done.
So many people in our world just don’t bother to consistently show up for the physical jobs they have to do, costing the economy billions of dollars. But far more costly is the failure to show up for the spiritual work we have to do. This is why we incarnated after all. In the spiritual community where I live there are frequent gatherings where concentrated spiritual work is done, work that generates a current of radiant blessing to be offered into the body of humanity. How important it is to show up for these times. Even if nothing is said, just a person’s presence brings so much power and influence in terms of providing an additional sounding board for the spiritual tone that is being sounded. Oh how the universe longs for people of quality who consistently show up to offer their highest and finest in every circumstance!
GOD, PROTECT ME FROM YOUR FOLLOWERS!
Those who purport to follow God can be some of the most ruthless and murderous people on the planet. To cite just one example, the Lord’s Resistance Army is a guerrilla group operating in South Sudan, the Congo and the Central African Republic. Its tactics include mutilation, torture, slavery, rape, the abduction of civilians, the use of child soldiers and massacres. The movement is led by Joseph Kony, who proclaims himself the spokesperson of God and a spirit medium. There are a large number of militant Islamic fundamentalist groups in the Middle East, including the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, particularly noted for its brutal treatment of women and strict enforcement of Sharia law.
While the excesses of Islamic extremism, where many are ready to kill for their faith, are rare in the United States, extremism of a different kind thrives in many fundamentalist churches. Preachers, sincerely believing they are speaking the Word of God, may not threaten to kill non-believers in this life but they do threaten hellfire and damnation in the “next life” unless a particular salvation formula is accepted. And, really, any form of proselytizing, any effort, no matter how polite, to impose one’s beliefs on another is equivalent to violently invading the sanctity of their being.
Yes, God, please protect me from your followers! The question is, do they really know You? A follower, by definition, is separate from God and can only develop concepts and beliefs about God, and considering the collection of superstitions and fantasies evident in the world’s religions, these ideas concocted by the human mind are way off the mark. I don’t think God wants followers; God, the Creator, Universal Being—however God is defined—wants leaders, people who are willing to take responsibility for being God in action on earth, people who don’t see any separation between themselves and the Creator and therefore don’t fabricate ideas about God. The latter can be dangerous!
CHANGE IS INEVITABLE, GROWTH IS OPTIONAL
It has been said that the only constant is change. This especially rings true at this point in the 21st century where massive changes are taking place in climate, politics, culture, the world economy, etc. If one is able to roll with these changes, easily adapting to them and even using them as springboards for growth and additional creative action, then all is well on the personal level and something positive is put into the collective consciousness of the body of humanity. But human beings are notorious for resisting change and seeking to preserve the status quo at all costs. For many the prospect of change seems terribly frightening and they will fight even to the death to prevent it.
One example that comes to mind is the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia. The ban has been supported by the county’s intransigent Islamic clerical establishment. Clerics reportedly believe that lifting the ban and generally giving women more freedom would lead to increased premarital sex and adultery. Saudi security officials have said that “enforcing the ban is part of protecting the monarchy against sedition.” Saudi Arabia also forbids women from travelling abroad, opening a bank account or working without permission from a male relative. Even Saudi King Abdullah acknowledges that women will someday drive in the country, but for now he and other officials there have opted to resist change and the growth opportunity that accommodating change brings.
The classic musical that illustrates resistance to change is “Fiddler on the Roof,” Tevye, the father of five daughters, tries to keep his family and Jewish religious traditions intact in the face of strong pressures to let go of these customs from his three older daughters. There is mounting pressure in these days on all religious and cultural traditions. The creative process of life simply will not be blocked anymore by the structures in human consciousness, no matter how old and how revered these structures are. To put it bluntly, human beings are increasingly being given the choice to either let go and grow or dig in and die.
Lest we end on a down note, here is an auspicious bumper sticker for all who are willing to let go and grow.
SOMETHING WONDERFUL IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN
Jerry Kvasnicka, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, has had a varied career as a youth minister, a radio news reporter, a writer and editor for several magazines and journals and a custodian with the Loveland, Colorado school district. Jerry currently edits and writes for the spirituality section of the online magazine The Mindful Word. He has lived at the Sunrise Ranch spiritual community in Loveland for twenty-five years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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