Article from Feb. 3, 2005 New Mexican


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Mushrooms are magic. by Staci Matlock, from The New Mexican, Santa Fe, NM, February 3, 2005

But the magic isn't the hallucinogenic, mind-altering kind associated with some species of mushrooms.

Staff at the Sustainable Communities/Zeri mushroom lab in Santa Fe say the real magic is found hidden underground or on trees, in the hairlike fungal roots of mushrooms, called mycelium. The mycelium of different mushrooms decomposes beetle-killed pi´┐Żon, enriches soil for live trees and helps prevent erosion, said Janette Fischer, biologist with the Sustainable Communities/Zeri mushroom lab. And some species of mushrooms, the visible fruit from mycelium, provide a high market value, high-protein food, for example, this oyster mushroom in the photo below.

The Sustainable Communities/Zeri mushroom lab is the only such lab in the state. It is devoted to collecting and studying native New Mexico mushroom species. The lab is one of many collaborative projects around the state funded through the U.S. Forest Service Collaborative Forest Restoration Program. The program's grant recipients look for ways to create marketable products from thinned trees.

In the case of Sustainable Communities/Zeri, along with partners at Picuris Pueblo, La Jicarita Enterprise Community and Carson National Forest, one of those products is mushrooms.

Lynda Taylor, co-director of Sustainable Communities/Zeri with her husband, Robert Haspel, said tapping into mycelium power is one part of a whole system the collaborative group is developing to improve forest health without wasting any of the thinned wood.

The group is using the lab to create a genetic repository of New Mexican mushrooms. They're also experimenting with growing mushrooms -- such as high-protein oyster mushrooms -- on bags of wood chips from various types of trees such as Ponderosa pine and salt cedar. They're working with Picuris Pueblo to test the leftover material as feed for bison. They're also testing ovens in Picuris for creating high quality charcoal from trees thinned in the Carson National Forest and using the smoke to naturally preserve larger-diameter tree trunks for use in construction.

"We feel a need to use all the products," said Taylor, already known around the state for her former work with the Southwest Organizing Project. "All these things are done in different parts of the world. We've just put them all together."

Currently, the lab has 18 species of mushrooms, their mycelium growing in plastic petri dishes. Gov. Bill Richardson and New Mexico State University have taken an interest in the lab and are seeking funds from the Legislature to create a state microbiologist position at New Mexico State University. If funded, the university would create a state mycelium lab, though Sustainable Communities would continue its own independent lab in Santa Fe, Taylor said.

Sustainable Communities/Zeri, along with Picuris Pueblo and other partners, received a two-year, $200,000 grant from the Collaborative Forest Restoration Program to work on its waste-nothing, sell-everything system. The program was started in New Mexico as a way of reducing fire hazards in overgrown national forests while creating jobs in rural areas.

Any group or company can apply for a Collaborative Forest Restoration Program grant as long as it has a good plan for restoring forests and collaborates with other agencies or communities. Carson National Forest, for example, has received $2.8 million through the program in the last four years of working with about a dozen groups. They've thinned or burned 6,800 acres and funded 159 jobs, according to forest spokesman Ignacio Peralta. Their projects also created 1584 cords of firewood for local people. In the Cibola National Forest, 15 collaborative programs are under way from Mt. Taylor to the Sandias involving six tribes, six municipalities and several communities, creating 138 jobs.

The collaborative program has stimulated other innovative uses of waste wood. Along Pot Creek in the Carson National Forest, potters are using slash in a wood-fired kiln. On the Cuba Ranger District of the Santa Fe National Forest, American Forest Products is experimenting with ways to create sturdy construction materials from wood chips and sawdust.

Many of these groups have ambitious plans. "The goal will be to optimize what nature gives us without wasting anything," Lynda Taylor said.

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Sustainable Communities/ZERI-NM
P. O. Box 8017,
Santa Fe, NM 87504 USA
Phone: 505-820-0186
FAX: 505-986-6019

Sustainable Communities/ZERI-NM is a public 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

This page was last updated on February 9, 2005

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Unless otherwise indicated, all photographs are © 2001-2004 Lynda Taylor.