Mushrooms are taking over the world. Mushroom mycelia networks, underground branched structures of hyphae that make up the vegetative formation of fungi, can stretch for miles—one particular mycelia growth in Oregon clocks in at approximately 2,400 acres. And these vast organisms show great promise in the industrial field. Sue Van Hook would be the first to tell you that mushrooms are not just a passing foodie fad: “Our western world phobia with mushrooms is over… mushrooms will increase as part of our diets, as part of our medicine chests, as part of our bee hives, and as restorers of habitats.”
Sue, a graduate of Humboldt State University with an M.A. in Biology, has been enmeshed with nature since her early childhood. “I was fortunate as a young child to spend my summers on a Maine island.” There, she found herself doing everything from working on a lobster boat with her grandfather, to digging clams, to playing in tide pools—anything to keep her out of the house and in-tune with nature.
That early love of nature translated itself into a life of investigation and observation centered on fungi. “As a scientist, I have spent 4 decades making observations, asking questions, and testing those questions by collecting and analyzing data.”
Sue pursues natural forms of healing, partially as a result of her past battle with breast cancer: “While undergoing treatments for 9 months, I knew I had to heal my immune system response. To do that, I turned to meditation, herbal supplements, plant essential oils, and medicinal mushrooms… The healing plants, fungi, and arts are ancient ‘knowns’ used and practiced for four to five thousand years. The access to them has been retained by indigenous cultures, but denied and suppressed by big pharma. While I am grateful for the chemo drugs I had to kill cancer cells, I also am aware the same company that poisons our ecosystems with pesticides making us sick, cashes in at the other end selling chemo drugs.”
This combination of pharmaceutical drugs and indigenous medicinal practices is a result of Sue’s relentless pursuit of investigation, experimentation, and reconnection with nature. And that natural love of inquiry has led her to her current work with Ecovative design.
Ecovative Design: The Industrial Application of Mushrooms
Ecovative Design is a mushroom-focused company that produces various materials composed of mushroom mycelium and agricultural waste, such as husks and stalks.
Sue’s role at Ecovative is as Chief Mycologist—she is responsible for procuring strains of mushrooms from the wild, and for educating all employees about the ins-and-outs of cultivating and researching mushrooms.
In short, the mushrooms cultivated at Ecovative digest agricultural waste and produce a strong support material that can be used in packaging, among other areas. Sue mentions that “…we have already replaced plastic styrene foam packaging and replaced carcinogenic resins in particle boards for furniture and building materials.”
Sue is passionate about the impact that mushroom materials could have on industry. As she states, “The current markets pay nothing for the ecological and health costs of their products’ entire life cycle: carcinogenic toxic styrenes.” At present, there is no accountability for the long-term disposal of certain products, such as styrofoam packing peanuts. And there’s a reason for that: “Plastics are cheap because they are made of petroleum that is heavily subsidized. If we chose to subsidize agricultural crops and mycelium, folks would be lining up down the street to become an Ecovative customer.”
In addition to the packaging materials mentioned above, Sue mentions that “We grew a mushroom insulated tiny house. We have replaced plastic foams used for art and architecture installations and surfboard cores, hand planes, and drones. We have replaced foam used in dried floral arrangements. We replaced plastic foam buoyant rings used to launch NOAA’s climate change/tsunami detection devices.”
At this point, the sky isn’t even close to the limit for Ecovative’s potential: “Within the next decade, we will replace plastics used in marine fisheries and dock flotation, pursue wetland revegetation restoration, replace toxic bromide flame retardants in seat cushions, door and wall panels, headrests and bedding for cars, planes, trains, and boats.”
The promise of mushrooms in undeniable. The trick will be convincing the world to return to nature when major industries lobby for continuing the status quo.
Bio for Will Klinedinst: Will dabbles in a little bit of everything: marketing, writing, sleeping, eating, powerlifting, musing, arguing, sleeping, and burning in the sun. He's a storied cynic and a graduate of York College of Pennsylvania. He works in marketing in Lititz, PA, and can quote Robin Hood: Men in Tights by heart. Follow his ramblings at willklinedinst.com!
If friendship is a dark path
Through dense trees on a moonless night
And if words are footsteps
One at a time over unseen ground
And if candy cap ice cream
Drowning in chanterelle brandy
Is the magic potion
Then count me in
Ellen Metrick 8.18.2011
Telluride Mushroom Festival August 2011
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This year's Telluride Mushroom Festival is pleased to have Eugenia Bone as one of this year's keynote speakers. Learn more about Eugenia below, and be sure to catch her at this year's Telluride Mushroom Festival!
"Mushrooms are the window by which I came to understand nature in a deeper way." - Eugenia Bone
From Eugenia Bone's Website
For twenty years my main focus as a writer has been food. My stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines across the country, from The New York Times Magazine to The National Lampoon, in Saveur, Food & Wine,Gourmet, Fine Cooking, The Wine Enthusiast, and Martha Stewart Living, among many others.
I have published recipes in Saveur Cooks (Chronicle Books, 1998), Saveur Cooks Italian, The Food & Wine Cookbook 1999 (and again in 2006), and my food writing has been anthologized in Food & Booze: Recipes and Ruminations for the Literary Mind (Tin House Books 2006). I wrote the introduction to the paperback edition on Pierre Franey’s A Chef’s Tale. I also write a blog, Well-Preserved, about food preservation and the ecosystem of the kitchen, for the Denver Post. I lecture sometimes, teach occasionally, and perform demonstrations on preserving and mushroom cooking, in venues like the Museum of Natural History, the Denver Botanical Gardens, and the New York Botanical Gardens.
My first book, At Mesa's Edge, was about restoring a ranch in Western Colorado, and the terrific food scene I encountered there. It was nominated for a Colorado Book Award. My second book, Italian Family Dining, was written with my father, artist and cookbook author Edward Giobbi, and focused on the way Italian eat: small servings of seasonal foods in courses. My third, Well Preserved, a collection of preserving recipes and how to use the preserves, was nominated for a James Beard Award and made it onto numerous “Best Books” lists. But now, withMycophilia, I’ve written about science.
That might seem incongruous, but in fact, recipe writing and science writing are not totally dissimilar: both require very precise thinking and evocative language. It took me years to understand the science (I was not a biology major, not by a long shot) and to navigate the erudite and eccentric community of professional and amateur mycologists, but producing Mycophilia has been the most profound writing experience of my career. Mushrooms turned out to be the window by which I came to understand nature in a deeper way.
I got into mycology through my culinary interest in mushrooms, but over the years I became more and more interested in the grace and mystery of the biology of fungi. I also found huge satisfaction in the kinship of fellow mycophiles. This year I became the co-president of the New York Mycological Society, a group founded by the composer John Cage fifty years ago, and still going strong. It is a delight to be involved, and yes, there are lots of mushrooms growing in New York City!
Sue worked for 5 years in land conservation for The Nature Conservancy managing a Northern California Coastal Dunes Preserve where she also conducted her graduate fieldwork. She moved to Belgrade Maine in the mid-eighties and worked as Director of Land Conservation and Stewardship for Maine Coast Heritage Trust. For 18 years she taught biology and environmental science labs at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY and currently works as the Chief Mycologist for a new Green Tech company, Ecovative Design in Troy, NY.
Sue will be presenting at the 2015 Telluride Mushroom Festival!
Workshop: Grow it Yourself with Ecovative's Mushroom Material
Please join Ecovative's Chief Mycologist Sue Van Hook to create your own Myco ... bowl, ball, toy, animal, robot, dinosaur, key holder, or ???? Consider bringing a specific mold or form to grow that special something. Sue will have ducks and bears and balls to fill too. Limited to 20 people. Cost $12/ person, children under 12 free accompanied by an adult.
Presentation: Mushroom Mycelium as Natural Resin
Ecovative in upstate New York has pioneered fungal mycelium as a natural resin used to bind plant waste products into packaging shapes, particle boards, automotive parts, surfboards and buoys. All it took was beginner's mind and eyes of two young engineers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to see the elasticity and network of fungal hyphae as a new biopolymer. Join Sue Van Hook, Ecovative's Chief Mycologist for a look at the science of mycelial resin
Sue Van Hook: http://www.suevanhook.com
Telluride Mushroom Festival Blog
Various members of the Telluride Mushroom Festival community contribute to this blog.