The fungus among us


Episode 1 of Season 2 — Hosted by Emily Harwitz.

In the season 2 premiere, Leslie Parra passes the mic to new host Emily Harwitz as they venture into Wilder Ranch State Park to go mushroom foraging with Arthur Lee of Mazu Mushrooms. In the middle of a redwood fairy ring, they explore the fantastic world of fungi — from mushrooms’ animal-like qualities to the way they can restore lands and waterways through a process called myco-remediation to which ones can literally kill you. Listen and learn all about what makes mushrooms so magical. | Episode Transcript

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Arthur Lee crouching next to a fallen log
Arthur Lee.
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Episode 1: The fungus among us

[Theme song intro]

Emily: Welcome to Season Two of I’ll Go If You Go, a Save the Redwoods League podcast. We’re building community and illuminating how Californians from all walks of life think about and experience nature and conservation, in the redwoods and beyond. I’ll go if you go, because when we explore together in community, the experience is all the more powerful.

Emily: You may have noticed that my voice sounds a little different than last season. That’s because I’m your new host Emily Harwitz. This season I’ll be taking you out into the field with me as I interview folks for doing cool things outdoors that you can try to. I’m here today with lesson kata Save the Redwoods League Outreach Program Manager posted season one. Today’s episode is all about insurance on a recent beautiful sunny day. Leslie and I drove out to forest trail and wilder Ranch State Park in Santa Cruz, California to talk to Arthur Lee, a mushroom farmer forger and Micah remediator. What’s micro remediation? We’ll get into that real soon in the episode. an ecologist an evolutionary biologist by training are there now runs his own mushroom farm called mozzie mushrooms, continuing a family tradition and making it his own by growing organic edible and medicinal mushrooms. Arthur is also using mushrooms to help restore the land after last year’s huge wildfires. Alright Leslie, you ready to get out there and learn a thing or two from Arthur? exciting world of mushrooms?

Leslie: I’m ready. Let’s go.

[Musical Interlude]

Emily: So Arthur, what’s your history with mushrooms?


Arthur: So I became fascinated with fungi right back in high school. I always knew my parents had a mushroom farm. We had a bunch of leftover equipment growing up and I was always around the equipment but it wasn’t until high school that I really started loving mushrooms. That continued into college and led to me pursuing different parts of the mushroom world as a hobbyist and now I started a mushroom farm.


Emily: I want to hear about your mushroom farm. Can you tell me a little about it?


Arthur: Sure. So my mushroom farm is on the coast in Pescadero is relatively new. I started about a year ago and I grow oysters and lion’s mane. Sometimes I play with maitaki and reishi. Itss name is Mazu Mushrooms and it’s about five miles from where my parents grew mushrooms back in the late 80s.


Emily: Can you tell me how it got that name?


Arthur: So I picked Mazu mushrooms because Mazu is a sea goddess from the South China Sea. A lot of sailors and fishermen would believe that Mazu protected them on the voyages. That’s where my family’s from, mainly southeast China right by the ocean. Here I am on the other side of the Pacific. I have ties to that area and I thought Mazu would be appropriate name to use for my mushroom farm.


Leslie: How are they supporting other trees or plants around them specifically, maybe redwoods or is there a link for them that way?


Arthur: Totally. So mushrooms are constantly putting nutrients back into the soil. They’re part of the whole lifecycle of a forest. If there are no mushrooms or fungi than dead trees and dead animals are just pile up, you know to the sky is because we have fun guy that we have, you know this rich soil that trees and other plants can grow from. They’re incredibly linked to, you know, every ecosystem out there and there are also a lot of like relationship between fungi and trees, mycorrhizal relationships that allow nutrients to be passed from plant to plant. So a lot of research has been done on that.


Emily: And mycorrhizal, that’s the fungus—

[Loud propeller noise obscures dialogue as an airplane passes overhead]

Arthur: The fungi have a special relationship with trees, where they share nutrients and communicate with each other and that allows the forest be connected together as a single being.


Leslie: That’s awesome, like little neurons.

Arthur: Yeah, exactly, A little network down there. It’s fun to think about fairy rings in redwoods and how they’re connected by roots and fungal relationships. Just like little families that are touching each other and are helping each other out.


Emily: That’s so cool. We stand in a fairy ring this very moment, looking up at the redwoods above our heads and thinking about the fungus beneath our feet. When talking about the mushrooms and working with mushrooms, it almost sounds like you’re talking about them as creatures, as opposed to a plant where you know more about what it likes.


Arthur: Totally. I would classify them more as—I mean, they’re more closely related to animals than they are plants. They breathe oxygen just like us and release CO2 [carbon dioxide], as opposed to plants which do the opposite. They secrete enzymes just like our stomachs do to help digest food. So yeah, they’re very much more like animals and they are like plants.


Leslie: Arthur, I wanted to know a little bit more about mycoremediation. Could you share a little about what that means what it is and how you apply that?


Arthur: Sure. Mycoremediation is a form of bioremediation, which uses bacteria, fungi, and plants. So mycoremediation is a subset that focuses on using mushrooms to help decontaminate soil and waterways. There’s a lot of projects going on right now, especially after the CZU fires that burned a lot of houses and cars down to the ground. A lot of those chemicals that were used to build houses are now in the ground and being washed with rains into our watersheds and into the ocean. So mycoremediation is a technique or is a practice that we’re trying to do to help stop some of these contaminants as fungi can pull these toxic chemicals out of the soil and lock them up in mushrooms.


Leslie: Awesome. They’re little heroes. Can you tell me more about the mycoremediation projects you’re working on right now?


Arthur: Yeah. So after the CZU lightning complex fires that happened here in the Bay Area, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a lot of houses and a lot of vehicles about burnt down to the ground, and for a long time, people didn’t know how to deal with this waste. A lot of it is just being scooped up and taken to, you know, a landfill somewhere or some containing area, but also a lot of it is being washed away by the rains into our precious waterways, where we have sensitive fish habitats and salamanders and amphibian habitats. So a lot of these chemicals are going right into these waterways, and mushrooms are being used to be placed in wattles to hopefully absorb some of these toxic chemicals and lock it up.


Emily: What’s a wattle?


Arthur: A wattle is kind of like a giant straw sausage. You might see them, like, next to highways sometimes for erosion control, but they’re for holding soil. So mushrooms can eat carbon materials such as straw, so you can inoculate the straw wattles with a species of oyster or some other mushroom and hopefully it’ll take hold and it could filter out some of these contaminants.


Emily: That’s so cool. Is there a way to measure, like, how many pollutants they’re pulling out of the soil or the water?


Arthur: There is. So that’s an experiment that’s being conducted as we speak. No other experiment has been conducted like that before. But my co-parent Maya Elson is working with a nonprofit CoRenewal and they’re conducting these experiments and testing the soils before and after these wattles to see, you know, exactly how much chemicals and compounds they’re taking off.


Leslie: That’s awesome. I look forward to reading that study.


Arthur: Oh, totally. Yeah, it’d be a huge step forward for mycoremediation. If they can prove that this is an effective tool then it could be employed after every year we’re having these giant fires, and it’d be great if there was a way for people to help lessen the impacts of them.


Emily: How did you get into mycoremediation?


Arthur: So I met Maya Elson, was it—oh god, like six years ago, seven years ago. We lived in this Co-Op together and she is a cofounder of this organization called Radical Mycology. They focus on applied mycology and mycoremediation and making mushroom cultivation accessible to the common person, not just the scientists and not just the farmer. She was doing a bunch of projects related to mycoremediation and I thought that was such a cool thing. And I started working with her on projects and still do today.


Leslie: Let’s talk a little bit more about those projects, like for, you mentioned, not necessarily for scientists or ecologists but maybe other folks can do it themselves at home. Like what are some projects that you could share with the audience that they may be able to explore?


Arthur: So a lot of mycoremediation is kind of done with grass roots efforts and is not well funded. You know, a lot of companies don’t have an interest in cleaning up the environment. So a lot of communities come together and work on these projects together. And you know, you can install myco-wattles, the straw sausages that are inoculated with fungi. You could do like burlap sacks to help prevent erosion and they could break down and feed the soil. Yeah, there’s a few techniques you can employ. In the Bay Area. There’s a few groups that are into applied mycology which is a branch of mycology that uses mushrooms in practical applications. Yeah, I would get in contact with them and see what projects they’re working on and see how you can help them volunteer. Or to remember like if you place these wattles or if you do mycoremediation projects, you can’t eat the fungi that are growing off it, even though oyster mushrooms are edible, because they do bioaccumulate a lot of toxins and heavy metals. So that’s an important thing to know if you’re foraging in the city, also next to roads. You know, you might not want to eat mushrooms that are close to anything toxic.


Leslie: Could you tell me a little bit about mushroom foraging?


Arthur: Mushroom foraging is a hobby. A lot of people go out in nature and look for edible mushrooms that they can take home and cook and eat and share with friends.


Emily: How does one get into mushroom? Like, how do you get started?


Arthur: I would start with a good field guide. That’s really all you need. Just go out there and start looking at mushrooms and try to identify them, and slowly you’ll pick up and learn the different names of, you know, what you’re looking for. You don’t need much.


Emily: Is there a guide that you could suggest?


Arthur: There is. This one called “All That the Rain Promises” is a pocket field guide. I have it with me right now. It’s by David Arora. He is a local who is kind of a mushroom expert. He also writes this one called “Mushrooms Demystified,” which is kind of like the bible of Western mushroom identification. There’s also like a bigger version called “Mushrooms in the Redwoods,” and that’s a really great more modern and updated mushroom filled guide. Highly recommend if you want to get into this hobby before just like hiking around and carrying one. “All That the Rain Promises” the nice little pocket book.


Emily: Mushroom foraging can be a fun way to go out into the redwoods, maybe with some friends. Is it like a solo thing or a group thing? Or what have you noticed?


Arthur: The more eyes the better. It’s fun to go with kids because they’re closer to the ground and they, they’re really good at finding mushrooms. You could go solo if you want, if you want to keep your spots secret or go on a big foray with a big group of people if you like.


Leslie: So one of the ones that you mentioned, or guides that you mentioned, “All That the Rain Promises”—is it because when you go mushroom foraging, you will probably see more after the rain? Or is it during the rainy season? Or what is it about the rain that makes you want to go out there and forage at that time?


Arthur: Yes, during the rainy season, you know, a few days after it rains, provides a good environment for mycelium to grow and they sense this new fresh ecosystem. The air is cleaner, there’s a better chance of their spores surviving and out-competing other bacteria and fungi. So that’s when they put out their fruiting bodies, which are the mushrooms that we’re looking for.

Emily: And then we come along and pluck them.

Arthur: Exactly. Well. You only want to take what you need, and you want to leave the mycelium as undisturbed as possible. So there are ways to minimize the impact while foraging. Like forging anything—plants or hunting—you never want to take more than you actually need, and you want to leave area undisturbed. Like, if you pick up the duff. Or you know truffle hunting is a big issue because a lot of these pigs [and] a lot of people will just like overturn the forest looking for these truffles and it is quite a big impact. A lot of people are doing it so you definitely want to try to, you know, use techniques that you know only take what you need and leave everything else undisturbed for other people and for the future of that mushroom patch. If you go back year after year, those mushrooms could grow again. But if you, you know, kick it up and mess up its habitat, you might kill it on the spot.

If you want to get into foraging, you should really learn the most poisonous mushrooms there are, and here on the West Coast, that would be  Death Cap, Amanita phalloides. It’s pretty recognizable. It’s like a booger-greenish-brown-yellow mushroom that starts off looking like an egg. It’s a beautiful mushroom. But it’s responsible for like a large percentage of fatalities and hospitalizations that happen in the US or even in the world. And a lot of Amanitas, like Destroying Angel, which is a white one little skirt. So if you’re just starting out, avoid Amanitas altogether, just learn what that family looks like and, you know, stay away from them.


Leslie: Make sure you get that guide.

Emily: Yeah, totally.

Leslie: Which ones would you say are the most popular ones that people would love to look for or find or come upon on a trail?


Arthur: I think people are really excited about chanterelles. They’re really brightly colored and they look cool and they have a great texture, they’re great for cooking. They’re just exciting to find.

[Musical interlude]


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Emily: Arthur, it has been so much fun learning about mushrooms. Now it’s time to learn a little more about you with our lightning round of fun questions to hear a little more about what you’ve been up to lately. Name one thing that’s getting you excited right now.


Arthur: The rain. The brownness of summer turning into the greenness of Fall and rain…and mushroom season.


Emily: Yes, whew! What’s a recent book you’ve read?


Arthur: There’s this book called “Braiding Sweetgrass” and it’s this Indigenous author who’s also a botanist and biologist, and she weaves together these stories of Indigenous knowledge and values with kind of like scientific and ecological knowledge.


Emily: Yes, by Robin Wall Kimmerer. I just read that. It’s one of my favorites.

Arthur: Yeah, so well done.

Leslie: I want to read that.

Emily: Yeah, for sure. What’s your current go to comfort food?


Arthur: I like noodle soups of all kinds. Wonton noodle soup, or pho, or ramen.

Emily: With mushrooms?

Arthur: Yeah, that’d be great.


Emily: What’s your favorite redwood park and why?


Arthur: My favorite redwood park…I like the ones in Big Sur, Julia Pfeiffer Burns. I like the dramatic landscapes with the ocean and the forest right there.


Emily: What’s one thing you hope listeners take away from this episode?


Arthur: I hope you can find a niche in the mushroom world that you’re interested in and pursue it. It can be intimidating because there’s so much to learn. But there’s really something for everyone. Whether you’re into the culinary aspect or the health aspect, foraging or cultivation, mycoremediation. There’s really so many different routes you can you know, find yourself going down.


Emily: That’s really exciting.


Leslie: Yes, Arthur, this has been such a pleasure to just walk here in the middle of this redwood fairy ring, and also just learning so much about these incredible organisms and how much life you bring to it. I mean, it’s one thing when we read about it, but when you get to hear from an expert like you, it’s so much better, and also the the history behind it and how it runs in your family and then your roots.

[Musical interlude]


Emily: Well, Arthur, thank you so much for being our guide into the magnificent marvelous world of mushrooms.


Leslie: Thank you so much. This has been amazing. I feel very, very blessed to have met you.

Arthur: Aw, thank you for having me.


Emily: To all of our listeners. Thank you so much for tuning in to the first episode of season two of I’ll Go If You Go with me, your host Emily Harwitz. I’m so excited to take you all out onto more adventures into the outdoors.

[Theme song fading out]

I’ll Go If You Go, a Save the Redwoods League podcast.

Through conversations with Black, Indigenous, and people of color who explore and work in the outdoors, we’re building community and illuminating how Californians from all walks of life think about and experience nature and conservation, in the redwoods and beyond.

About the host of Season 2

Emily HarwitzEmily Harwitz (she/her) is a multimedia science writer and photographer whose work focuses on the environment and our connection to it. She tells stories that foster community, provoke curiosity, and inspire a sense of deeper connection with the natural world around us.

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