The networks we live in and amongst make us stronger as individuals and as a collective. Of course, there are dark sides and details to networks like the internet, and maybe the truth is that anything we interact with becomes a reflection of our diverse nature, and thus can become a tool for all that we engage in – from destructive to positive behaviour. For the purpose of this blog, and to educate each other on how to positively transform the planet, the following will focus on the latter, from the technological to the fungal!
World wide communication is more accessible than ever before through the internet, which continually expands the amount of information available at our fingertips. So, in terms of social and ecological justice causes, we are more aware of the movements that needs our attention; within seconds we can link up to a network of people who stand behind a cause we feel called to. To use my own life call of environmentalism as an example to illustrate this, we can look at the specific development of ecovillage communities that are increasing all over the globe, which provide many answers to our current environmental issues. Ecovillages look and operate differently dependent on the culture, history and environment they are situated in, but they have a shared focus on creating conscious human communities that live symbiotically with the land through principles of permaculture, which can be succinctly described by Graham Bell in “The Permaculture Way” as the “conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way”. My dad discusses this movement as the “permaculture prescription”, playfully nudging at the darkness of the pharmaceutical industry while pointing towards how permaculture can be positively prescribed to regenerate landscapes, human communities, and our individual health.
Within the umbrella of permaculture, food forests are an essential part of ecovillages and are dependent upon one of the most spectacular networks in the ground. Food forests are characterized as a forest system that grow multiple kinds of food, acting as a habitat for beneficial insects, pollinators, chickens, goats and song birds. Food forests dispel the myths cultivated from corporate monoculture, that extensively growing a single crop with intensive methods and using fertilizers and pesticides is the most productive. I feel its a lesson learned at the detriment of too many beings: isolate and disconnect something and you take away its purpose to thrive.
Now, prepare to learn one of the zaniest words: mycorrhizae. This word encapsulates the various ways symbiosis occurs between mycelium (the vegetative component of a fungus that consist of a network of fine white filaments called hyphae) and the vascular system of a plant. Basically, how mycelium and plants work together to make each others lives better. The soil created from mycorrhizal aided food forests shows how cooperation amongst living beings affects the whole living planet. Mycologist Paul Stamets explains this so well, “soil is a major CO2 sequester. Oxalic acid crystals are formed by the mycelia of many fungi, and many other minerals to form oxalates, in this case, calcium oxalate. Calcium oxalate sequesters two carbon dioxide molecules. Carbon rich mushroom mycelia unfold into complex food webs, crumbling rocks as they grow, creating dynamic soils that support diverse populations of organisms”. Pardon the science lesson, but its essential to this point: the fungal-plant network called mycorrhizae builds healthy soils that are a foundation for forests, including food forests built in ecovillage communities, which simultaneously acts as a climate change mitigating agent.
Mycelium is crucial for the ability of a forest to flourish. Plants use mycelium like their own internet, to communicate and share nutrients. This means the mycelia network is essential for human thriving since the functioning of our individual systems depends on the energy we intake, which of course, all stems from flora that is eaten directly by us or other creatures we consume. This simply illustrates one of the many wonders in the web of life, how all parts of the whole are in conversation; telling stories both individually and together. We are networks within networks. Paul Stamets explains, “I believe that mycelium is the neurological network of nature. Interlacing mosaics of mycelium infuse habitats with information-sharing membranes. These memberships are aware, react to change, and collectively have the long term health of the host environment in mind.” It’s true that humans are more closely related to fungi than any other kingdom, which our dependency on networks attests to. When we are born we are weaved into this cosmic dance, and through learning the details of this dance I’m reminded to “show up fully”, which means to participate as much as I am able, and to spread this message to all that I encounter.
In the midst of writing this article I was lucky to spend time at Hollyhock, a retreat on Cortes Island, where I attended a conscious filmmaking camp (coincidentally the same island where Paul Stamet’s resides part of the year). Hollyhock is a hub for networking, hosting workshops and gatherings that bring the diversity of humanity together to coalesce and connect by the Pacific sea and in and amongst the kaleidoscopic flower gardens and forest. To discuss networks, I interviewed CEO of Hollyhock, Dana Bass Solomon. She confirmed right away my most important question, that yes, networks are integral to positively transforming the planet. Now, let your mind hoolahoop around the various networks that support its very thought processes, and dive into what you care about. There is no other time than now, sweet friends!
6 ways mushrooms can save the world | Paul Stamets