Note: The following comments are based on personal opinion and my life experiences, through study of the words and actions of educational and ecological activists, thought-leaders, and the many varied lessons I have learned from la madre tierra, all to whom I am incredibly grateful. My words sound authoritative, but I do not claim authority. I hope this article opens this topic to a larger conversation, both on mycoremediation certification, but also on our options for constructing meaningful, community and ecologically driven learning environments.
Why Mycoremediation Certification Is Poised to Lead Education Reform
The field of mycoremediation is growing rapidly, with fungi-loving folk no longer relegated to the margins of scientific study or to regional fall mushroom festivals. The general public is beginning to value mycelium cultivation as a real solution to changing some of the world’s largest problems, as evidenced by over 1.7 million views of Paul Stamet’s “6 ways mushrooms can save the world” TedTalk and increased attention brought to the topic in magazines like National Geographic and Yes! Magazine. This shift has beckoned increased public demand for training in mycoremediation, so much so that currently mycoremediation is undergoing a process of certification, a critical moment for mycology, but also an equally paramount moment for education.
The Educational System
The nature of current education is that institutions dictate what qualifies an individual for said work or experience in the “real” world and the student, in exchange for meeting the stated external requirements, is given “certification,” “licensure,” or “a degree.” This creates an externalized causal model, doing x-thing for y-result- an assignment for a grade, a paper for a grade, a standardized test for a grade. In the case of higher education or other forms of post-secondary school, certification is also linked to a financial imperative- we pay for it, and depending on how much we are willing to pay, we are awarded a socially-perceived “better” certification, regardless of our level of skillfulness in executing this knowledge and expertise in the world around us.
Though this model simplifies “mass output” education, the process disappoints students in the long-term who exit schools questioning their ability and worthiness to execute change in the larger world context- a space seemingly without delineated and itemized direction or clear, direct feedback on success.
The contrary to this experience is an individual learning through a process of internal and community-based accountability. This is an open-system, a system that does not measure success based upon externalized standards, but through actual real and perceived impact on community. This method of learning necessitates self-reflection and personal-accountability and relationships with outside community members and the natural environment to mirror our own understandings of learning. This model for learning naturally accelerates personal growth and self-worth because sense of achievement is derived from primary experience as opposed to theoretical experience and our acceptance of the feedback of that primary, first-hand experience. It is accessible to all learning and executionary styles, and accommodates different pacing.
How mycoremediation is different
San Juan Mycology: the practice of using fungi to degrade and capture pollutants from the environment;
Mushroom Mountain: Fungi produce powerful enzymes that are capable of breaking down complex, toxic molecules and pathogenic organisms. Mushroom spawn can create a network, or living “filter,” on a wide range of substrates. Miles of mycelia per cubic inch of media, the cellular walls of fungi sweat a mixture of enzymatic molecules that are programmed to adapt.
Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary: “The word you’ve entered isn’t in the dictionary. Click on a spelling suggestion below or try again using the search bar above.”
I gathered these definitions from a quick web-search, and I do not think any of the individuals from these groups would “sum-up” mycoremediation with the one-liners I have listed above, but my point is this: it is the people’s groups and organizations, the collaborations of individuals within communities that are driving the defining characteristics of mycoremediation thus far, not the “Merriam-Webster”s of the world or other classically authoritative external institutional bodies.
The beauty of mycoremediation currently lies in its accessibility. The process trusts that individuals of any educational background are able to learn grassroots’ tools and strategies for mycoremediation. The openness within the discipline pushes individuals to step-up and set-up home or community-based labs for cultivation, soil study, and propagation, encouraging the field of mycoremediation to develop as a citizen science, a science conducted by everyday people- ensuring it stays accessible and community-driven. Even the driving definitions come from people in the field- being created and co-created by those most intimate with the work.
The moment certification enters the scene, questions arise in attempting to find a model that upholds the characteristic-culture that mycoremediation demonstrates thus far. National statistics and past experiences illustrate that most regularly implemented models of certification, licensure, or other types of institutional accreditation regularly fail students, so the challenge surfaces of developing an effective method for maintaining the culture of mycoremediation while ensuring individuals and communities receive a measure of tracked and reviewed training that “means something” in the larger national, and potentially international, community.
Beginning Mycoremediation Certification Efforts
This past August 2013, I attended a mycoremediation certification course at the Telluride Mushroom Festival. Though there have been many mycoremediation courses offered up to this point, the course offered in Telluride was to mark the first ever certification course. The certification course was 3-days and had morning lectures and afternoon hands-on sessions that were focused on cultivation, mycoremediation, terrain assessment, and more. The course itself was incredibly informative, a full introduction to mycoremediation, and a well-attended and desired offering at the festival, however, below I outline why I would not classify it at this particular stage in its evolution as “certification.” Though the completion of this course technically deems me certified in mycoremediation, I would not after this experience define myself as “certified” based on experiential factors such as time-restrictions, a secondary feedback model, and a lack of practical application.
The model used for our certification was based on assessment of our commitment to a certain time-frame and the ability to pay $300.00 rather than our ability to successfully remediate a given site, our past experience (or inexperience) in the field, and qualified us over other festival attendees with a more extensive background unable to pay the fee. We did not work with a contaminated landscape over time to practice our skills and make real change and thus did not receive primary feedback from the environment, animals, and community on whether our efforts were in alignment and assistive in the re-balancing of that ecological site. The intention is to continue working with the site at Telluride over the next 5 years, however, our certification was considered complete after the weekend, not after a successful remediation spanning a five year process, the amount of time necessary to address a landscape degradated by the city’s major industry of the late-1800s/early-1900s, mining. So, though our learning was extensive, some of the metrics that I would hope would be used to define certification are not in place at this time.
This was a first attempt, and an information-filled course, yet I have higher hopes for mycoremediation certification moving forward and believe the discipline has immense potential to teach the rest of the “educational” world about ecologically-responsive models for learning. Below I outline the beginnings of a potential certification model that works for us and the earth in a way that is impactful and congruent with the powerful community work that we already see happening.
Long-Term Outcomes: Certification could be based on long-term outcomes versus time-elapsed in a course. Instead of specific time delineating course completion, successful remediation of a given zone/area/lot with overall regenerative outcomes for animals, people, soil, and any other being in the given system act as primary indicators. This requires community-directed metrics to gauge what “success,” “regeneration,” or other key terms mean, and continued communication with community partners and assessment of surrounding landscapes and animal populations. This way of approaching certification necessitates understanding biodiversity and regionalism and utilizing methods and materials specific to the plant populations, environment, and local community that you are situated within.
Recognizing Milestones: In the interim, instead of becoming certified, individuals receive acknowledgements of milestones, recognition for how far they have come awarded by others in their remediation group, or from the mentors or teachers of the given course. The use of “milestones” not only honors individuals for their growth and contributions, but also recognizes that we are always in journey, always active, and will continue as journey for as long as we do this work. These milestone awards could be based upon the metrics that have been developed for the larger-scale project, which is defined in the initial stages of project implementation, may be based upon personal goals and objectives, or some combination of the two. A milestone for an individual, for example, may be learning a certain skill set that they now feel competent and confident in regular practice. It can also be because of a significant contribution to the project, as defined by the people in the project.
Community Certified: Taking it one-step further, what would it be like to move beyond mere individual certifications, but offer community certifications? Where a group of people through collaborative process is awarded individually and as a team certification upon successful remediation of a given area? Along with creating metrics for remediation as outlined above, community groups get awarded for working together and sharing in process, receiving recognition for group-identified measures of “success” like, for example, ability to confront and manage conflicts that arise, bring diverse opinions to the table, get things done in timely manner, to offer long-term support to the project and one another, or to create fluid, transparent systems of communication.
We do not live in a black and white world, so black and white answers are not solutions to relational, i.e. ecological, imbalances. Each of these suggestions is complex and involves individuating certification based on the area, the people, the needs inherent in the system.
A New Paradigm of Certification
The beauty of this model is that we actually do not need to wait for an outside entity to set these parameters in place before we begin implementing this form of “certification”– that is the whole point of this ideal in the first place. There are already organizations and individuals doing this work that live the things that are listed in this article (heck, this article was inspired by what is already happening in the field of mycoremediation). But, I also wrote this piece because of my concerns around losing what is so unique and powerful in this field to the “standard” models of certification: losing the self-learning, community-driven, garage-science, “invite-your-neighbor” approach.
I decided to look up “certification” on Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, and, not too surprisingly, unlike mycoremediation, it was listed: “:the act of making something official :the act of certifying something : the official approval to do something professionally or legally.” [bolding my own]
Who better to determine our level of professionalism than the land and the people and animals that inhabit it? What better system to determine our level of legal adherence than natural laws of the earth, than the limbic laws of community? When understood this way, certification by any other standard seems silly, even disrespectful to our Teachers of earth and animal.
In this paradigm, certification is more than “official approval.” Certification becomes an instrument to honor the individual who has earned it through a life of honoring.
Final Note: I would like to see this conversation continue into the future. To contact me directly with feedback, critique, or other questions, please email email@example.com. I am still delineating the best forum for this topic to be explored within, but will hopefully get that set-up within the next few months. Thank you!
Resources For Right Now
The following are a few resources I have found incredibly useful in my own amateur mycoremediation journey:
- Radical Mycology: what don’t they have on their site? Instructional free online videos, online zines, the week-long Radical Mycology Convergence spring 2014 information, and in-person cultivation course offerings. To go straight to their video series on cultivation for remediation purposes, go here.
- Fungi for the People: My first web search on mycoremediation landed me on Fungi for the People’s site, and I felt the methods and mentality of Fungi for the People is “in-sync” with what I would call an “earth-responsive” approach- focusing on bioregionally appropriate, community-driven ways of working with remediation efforts. The website has info on mycoremediation, key terminology, and when upcoming events and workshops will be, and Ja Schindler from Fungi for the People has a book coming out that will provide a more comprehensive look at cultivation for food, medicine, and mycoremediation.
- The book, Earth Repair: A Grassroots Guide to Healing Toxic & Damaged Landscapes by Leila Darwish: If I had just not written this entire article and said, “Hey, go read this book and then take those principles and apply them to certification….or don’t and just do the work that way,” we would be at the same point that we are now. Leila’s book was my amazing, and no I am not exaggerating, life-changing introduction to mycoremediation and I find myself reading through it regularly- brushing up on a section here or there – for more info on the book, click here, and for a book review I wrote a while back, click here.
- Amazon MycoRenewal Project: I have not yet attended one of their mycoremediation courses, but I have heard many positive things about AMP and felt it was well worth the mention. This past summer, the Amazon MycoRenewal Project (with Mia Maltz & Nicola Peel) along with Maya Elson from Radical Mycology, put on a 10-day mycoremediation course in California that taught skills in cultivation, remediation, and more with different speakers from several myco-focused organizations presenting and sharing information. Check them out here to stay-tuned to future courses and the work they are doing in Ecuador.
- Finally, the everyday people in my life and bioregion. I wouldn’t keep learning and growing the way that I am if it weren’t for my womyn friends, Mara, Whitney, and Kate, and my bioregional brothers, Alex, Travis, and Gabe. You may not have these awesome people as part of your network, but you do have someone-I swear to you-the mushroom people are everywhere…