Evan Marczynski/The AS Review

After a long, rainy day, mushroom enthusiasts regularly take to the forests in search of fungal treats that grow in a surprising array and plentiful quantity across the landscape of Western Washington.

Aside from being a food source rich in fiber and essential vitamins, some varieties of mushroom can also be used for medicinal and environmental purposes.

At 2 p.m. on Friday, May 28 in the Fairhaven Auditorium, the Outback Farm is hosting Randi Dennis, a local practitioner of Chinese medicine, to talk about the importance of medicinal mushrooms and the role they play in traditional Chinese medical practices.

The free lecture is the second event in the Outback’s Mushroom May event series, which began last week.

Outback Coordinator Nick Spring said the Mushroom May events are a chance for students to learn more about the positive benefits of mushroom cultivation and consumption from people in the Bellingham area who have knowledge of the ways that mushrooms can be used.

“It’s just a good opportunity to learn from two local professionals who are working with mushrooms as a way to bring about better health,” Spring said.

On Friday, May 21, the Outback hosted Alex Winstead, owner and founder of Cascadia Mushrooms, to demonstrate the bioremediation properties of mushrooms and how the fungi can be used to help restore depleted nutrients in the ground.

Cascadia Mushrooms, a small-scale gourmet mushroom farm, started in 2005 and produces mushrooms for retail sale. Some of the varieties he grows include shitake, blue oyster, king oyster, wine cap stropharia, lion’s mane and pioppino.
He said he started getting interested in growing mushrooms and their unique properties while he was a student at The Evergreen State College in Olympia. He spent time in college focused on the study of ecology and botany, but he also worked at a mushroom farm in the area and learned more about the life cycles of mushrooms and growing techniques.

“That naturally progressed into me starting to cultivate mushrooms myself,” he said.

His farm is located just north of Bellingham and sells mushrooms to local restaurants and grocery stores such as the Community Food Co-op and Terra Organica. In addition, Cascadia Mushrooms has a regular spot at the weekly Farmer’s Market in downtown Bellingham.

Winstead has put on workshops at the Outback Farm in the past and said he came back because he enjoys educating people on how planting mushrooms can help rejuvenate soil through mycoremediation, a process that uses the fungi to return polluted soil back to a cleaner, less contaminated state.

His workshops include hands-on demonstrations on how mushrooms can be incorporated into garden plots to help recycle waste material and return vital nutrients to the soil.

In addition to farming and selling mushrooms, Winstead likes to hunt for wild mushrooms when the weather conditions are just right for them to grow in forested or hilly areas.

However, he said he is opposed to unsustainable, large-scale commercial mushroom harvests that sometimes take place in spots where wild mushrooms are found. One technique that is particularly devastating to the environment is the use of large metal rakes to scrape large plots of ground in order to pull up wild mushrooms growing there, he said.

“I think a lot of commercial mushroom harvesting is done irresponsibly,” he said. “Basically, they’re just destroying the forest floor.”

Winstead said he hopes people who attended his workshop will realize how easy it is to grow mushrooms and how the cultivation of mushrooms can play a vital role in the health of gardens and areas that have suffered ecological damage.
Although the school year is coming to a close, Spring said that in addition to the Mushroom May events, the Outback is in the process of planning more activities to give students an opportunity to come check out the farm.

Spring said that every Sunday at 11 a.m., the Outback holds work parties. Volunteers help cultivate the various gardens that are maintained on the farm. This gives students the opportunity to learn more about eco-friendly gardening techniques and even take home some fresh produce in exchange for the help they provide.

Spring added that the new amphitheater the Outback has been building is nearing completion, and once that is done he said they plan to hold a live concert on the farm.

Additionally, the Outback is also in the process of putting together educational farming workshops for students over the summer.

For more information about the Outback, students can contact Nick Spring by e-mail at as.outback@wwu.edu.
To learn more about Alex Winstead and the Cascadia Mushrooms farm, visit www.cascadiamushrooms.com.