One of my job titles for the summer is “mushroom specialist”. This means that my car is full of big orange 5 gallon buckets, my freezer is full of coffee grounds, and sitting on my kitchen table is a 5lb block of sawdust inoculated with shiitake mushroom spores. Although my job title is mushroom specialist, I must admit that I can’t remember the last time I ate a mushroom and before this summer I didn’t know much about them. When I signed up for Summer of Solutions- Twin Cities I knew I wanted to do something with urban agriculture. I figured I’d be weeding a couple of gardens, maybe harvesting a crop of carrots or beats, and if I got lucky I might even get to take some of the produce home. Since I’ve started working with Summer of Solutions my idea of urban agriculture has expended. I don’t just think of big community gardens and rows of carrots and beats. I think of tilapia, vermacomposting, and of course mushrooms.
Did you know that mushrooms can break down radioactive waste, and then be converted into bio-fuels? Or that mushroom mycelium can be used as a filter to remove biological contaminants from surface water that pass directly into sensitive watersheds? How about that the waste substrate from many mushrooms can be used as feed for animals or as garden compost? Mushrooms are amazing organisms and when I learned some of the cool things that they could do I knew I had to know more. So I volunteered to become a mushroom specialist for Yea Corps.
Yea Corps is a partner of SOS-Twin Cities that works with schools in Minneapolis to empower youth with job skills and sustainable education. A major component of this mission has been the development of an aquaponics system that gets students to think about closed loop systems and new ways to view waste. This summer nine SOS interns will be working to maintain what Yea Corps has done in the past, and expand on their vision for the future. For me that means cultivating mushrooms. For other interns it means building a new aquaponics system, growing algae to feed the fish, or producing videos to share the mission of Yea Corps. For all of us it means finding what interests us and seeing how we can apply that to creating a green economy. It’s exciting to think about where all of this will take us and how we as a group can expand the way people think about agriculture.