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I was three weeks into quarantine and out of my job as a restaurant manager when two mushroom blocks arrived at my doorstep. They had come via Smallhold, organic mushroom growers whose“minifarms” can usually be found fruiting fresh fungi in restaurants around NYC. When the coronavirus outbreak shut these restaurants down, Smallhold kept farming, and began sending spores to apartments all over the city.
I thanked the gloved, masked delivery person for what looked like big plastic bags of dirt inoculated with mycelium, the living organism from which mushrooms grow. So were born Sturgeon and Roe, my blue oyster and lion’s mane fraternal mushroom twins.
I spritzed the blocks through holes cut in the bag and over the next week, my mushrooms seemed to unfurl and develop by the hour, growing taller, wider, and shifting colors from the deep blue of a shark’s skin to pearlescent grays and browns. Textures changed. The lion’s mane grew from knobby to puffy, and the oyster mushrooms’ stalks shone like baleen teeth.
Their development was obviously remarkable, but another remarkable thing happened: I was going to sleep excited, and waking up excited too. With Sturgeon and Roe blossoming, I felt connected again. I found myself monitoring not only the growth of my fungi, but checking in on the progress of others on Smallhold’s Instagram. I salivated over images of gourmet mushrooms growing in the hands of people who know what to do with them—chefs, servers, food nerds.
Mushrooms are the fruit of an underground internet. Their mycelium threads create vast subterranean networks by which the mushrooms find nutrients and communicate with each other (and other plants too). Bringing a mushroom block into your home feels like plugging into that internet, connecting to other growers while keeping a safe distance, and, of course, enjoying the delicious results.
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