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September 28, 2014

The Radical Mycology Convergence: "Learn Skills, Spread Spores"

Before you start running for the hills (and I can think of half a dozen different reasons to do that immediately), you might want to know the definition of "mycology." From Wikipedia:

Mycology is the branch of biology concerned with the study of fungi , including their genetic and biochemical properties, their taxonomy and their use to humans as a source for tinder, medicine (e.g., penicillin ), food (e.g., beer , wine , cheese , edible mushrooms ), and entheogens, as well as their dangers, such as poisoning or infection. A biologist specializing in mycology is called a mycologist.

Simple enough, eh? But what that Wikipedia entry also notes is that fungi are "evolutionarily more closely related to animals than plants," which is a relatively recent discovery. Another interesting fact is that the field of phytopathology, which is the study of plant diseases, arose because so many plant pathogens are fungi. Anybody who has worked in the garden for more than a couple of days knows that plants are often stricken by fungal diseases.

Enter the The Radical Mycology Convergence from October 9-14 in Orangeville, Illinois. Be afraid, be very afraid? Uh, probably not. According to their own website, this is "a unique gathering of mycologists, mushroom enthusiasts, and Earth stewards coming together to share skills and information on the numerous benefits of the fungal kingdom for humans and the planet."

Whew! They had me worried for a moment.

The convergence is a weekend long event consisting of workshops, presentations, and various mycoremediation installations. Beyond the skills shared, the RMC also works to build a community among like-minded mycophiles (aka mushroom lovers) and community-based earth healers to collaborate on remediation and restoration projects during and after the RMC.

So why do they consider themselves "radical"?

The organizers of the Radical Mycology Convergence see the use of fungal species for environmental betterment as an extension of “radical” or “deep” ecology, which considers all beings as having an inherent value and interdependence. Through the use of fungi to enact change, we are attempting to challenge assumptions about the importance of the fungal kingdom in western culture in an effort to help shift society's relationship to the fungi (and, by extension, the Earth) toward greater harmony. The values behind the RMC focus on directly reducing ecological destruction and human oppression in the world by emphasizing community building, sustainable lifestyle practices, and personal empowerment to bring about positive and lasting change.

A prime mover behind the convergence is Nance Klehm, who is involved with groups like Social Ecologies and Spontaneous Vegetation. In fact, last week I talked to Melany Vorass Herrera, who wrote a book called The Front Yard Forager: Identifying, Collecting, and Cooking the 30 Most Common Urban Weeds. But it looks as though Nance beat her to the punch with her article Reap Where You Did Not Sow: A Guide to Urban Foraging, which she wrote in 2001 (!). Nance has been on this show before and she describes herself thusly:

Nancy Klehm is a steward of the earth. For over two decades she has designed landscape, taught ecological systems and built food systems in collaboration with others. Her approach is one of instigation and activation of already existent communities, and her work demonstrates her commitment to redefining the way human populations coexist with plant and animal systems on this planet.

I welcome her back to The Mike Nowak Show. Joining her will be Maya Elson and Willoughby Arevalo. Maya is a teacher, naturalist and radical mycologist. She is one of the founders of the Radical Mycolocy network. Willoughby is a mycologist and artist who has spoken widely on mycology and mycopermaculture.

By the way, Maya and Willoughby will lead a 2-hour presentation on the uses of fungi for personal, societal, and ecological healing this Tuesday, September 30 at 7:00pm at the Civic Lab, 114 N. Aberdeen Street in Chicago (and a very cool place.)

It's the Giant Pumpkin Contest, Charlie Brown!

Boy, you can always tell when we're getting to Halloween month. That's when the Giant Pumpkin People show up. They're not called Giant Pumpkin People because they are pumpkins that have sprouted legs and arms and heads. They're called Giant Pumpkin People because that's what they grow.

I have been covering thet Illinois Giant Pumpkin Growers Association competition in Illinois off and on for a number of years (don't ask me how many). But something amazing happened last year, though not in Illinois. The seemingly impossible was achieved. On October 11, 2013, giant pumpkin grower Tim Mathison brought a world record 2032 pound pumpkin to the Uesugi Farms Pumpkin Park Weigh-off at Morgan Hill, Ca. Tim grew his record pumpkin on the 2009 Wallace seed and crossed it with the 1554 Mathison, whatever the hell that means.

If you're interested in the history of large pumpkins, log onto this site.

Back in Illinois, however, we're striving to get to 1700 pounds. If you check the Illinois Giant Pumpkin Growers Association Facebook page, you'll see that Gene McMullen broke the state record in Wisconsin at 1692 lbs. What's weird is that McMullen is from Streator, Illinois. I'm not exactly sure how that works, but that's why I'm having giant pumpking grower George Janowiak back on the program this morning.

He is a member of the Illinois Giant Pumpking Growers Association, and is also in the pond installation business. You might remember that I had Greg Wittstock from Aquascape, Inc on the program last week to promote his new TV series Pond Stars, which premiered on September 9 on the the Nat Geo WILD channel. What I didn't know is that George is also a "pond guy" and has worked with "The Pond Guy."

The good news is that George thinks that he might have a shot at winning this year's Illinois competition. He sent me the photo on the left, and he thinks that it weighs in at somewhere between 1300 and 1500 pounds. That's a lot of pumpkin pie, baby!

The weigh off starts at noon at Bengston's Pumpkin Farm, 13341 W 151st Street in Homer Glen, Illinois. Growers come from all over the Midwest from Illinois to Iowa to Ohio and Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana too! (I guess you grow it anywhere and if you can get it to the contest site without dropping it, they're willing to forgive the fact that you're from out of state.) There's prize money from first place all the way to tenth place. Plus $50 for prettiest pumpkin.

He joins me this morning to talk about the trials and tribulations of growing giant pumpkins.

"Swap 'Til You Drop" is all about seeds

I received an email the other day from one of my heroes in the sustainability movement, Vicki Nowicki. She's a person, who, with partner Ron Nowicki, has been using permaculture techniques for for more than 40 years--long before the terms "sustainability" and "permaculture" became fashionable.

She is the founder of Liberty Gardens, which is dedicated to demonstrating "a sustainable way to live so that our grandchildren would inherit a livable planet and that we would leave a legacy of health, beauty, abundance and prosperity for all children."

Interestingly, she is working this weekend with Central Illinois Farm Beginnings, a program of The Land Connection, which, if you remember, was the organization that helped Sara Creech and Alicia Moore from Blue Yonder Organic Farm get their start.

Yesterday, Vicki did a seminar on seed saving in Champaign, Illinois.However, she heads back to Downers Grove for the first Liberty Gardens Seed-Lending Library Seed Swap on Friday, October 3 from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. at the Lincoln Center, Room 105, 935 Maple Avenue in Downers Grove, Illinois. You need to call to register for the event: 630/963-1300.

Vicki writes:

This event is open to the public. We want everyone to have the fun of checking out what other people grow, hearing the pros and cons of that variety and maybe trying something new. 

Build BIODIVERSITY in your seed collection. If you don't have a seed collection, this is a perfect time to start one. You can attend, even if you don't have seeds!

Remember, Seed Swapping has been going on for 10,000 years. Up until 100 years ago or so, almost EVERYONE grew their own food, cooked their own meals and saved their seeds. At season's end they went into town and traded what they had and told stories. Now we have lost 95% of the food diversity we had about 100 years ago. But we can step up and take care of what's left and form a new generation of seed savers!

How does the Seed Swap work?

  • Round up the seeds you want to bring! We will accept open-pollinated and heirloom vegetables, flowers and herbs. No worries, if you have no seeds right now you may make a monetary donation. This is the perfect time to get seed.
  • Package your seeds. Of course you may bring commercial seeds if they are fresh and open-pollinated. Seeds should be no more than 3 years old. The quantity sometimes depends on how many a suburban gardener can grow. For example; one lettuce seed is not enough and 50 watermelon seeds is too much. But, if you have loose seeds, they should be packaged in a container.
  • Create a container Either an envelope or a jar is best to package your seeds. Here is a quick and easy seed envelope made from a business envelope. With a glue stick, glue down the entire flap so there are no open spaces. Now cut the envelope in half. Voila! Before filling, be sure to label it. Of course, you can make your own kind of envelope or container as long as it can be clearly labeled .
  • Leaving space at the top start with the botanical name. Next line should be the common name, The bottom left corner should be the year the seeds were grown and the bottom right hand corner should say where they were grown. Now fill with seeds, fold over the top (for envelopes) and seal with scotch tape OR screw down the lid (if it is a small jar) and make sure that your label can be easily read. 

If you have questions email Vicki at




Nance Klehm

Maya Elson

Willoughby Arevalo

Vicki Nowicki

Lettuce seeds     Photo by Jacopo Werther