They Put the Fun in Fungi. What Do We Do?

Last Saturday,  like hundreds and hundreds of others, I went to the Santa Cruz Fungus Fair. I began my visit by standing in line for half an hour to get into the lecture by David Arora, author of the great Mushroonms Demystified. The lecture was called "the Wheel of Fungi."

I had time to observe the fungus folk wandering by, including this guy with the enormous fly agaric puffy hat and mushroom shaped dark glasses, shown above.

Not a stiletto heel in sight. (No offence to those who enjoy style, it just isn't for me.)

Instead, a collection of shaggy and  variously tonsured individuals, generally genial. I was feeling generally genial myself, and enjoyed being one with the crowd.

Then I noticed among us more mature individuals, a high proportion of young people. Lively and - well - cool. Hip. Many were actually non-dorky. Waiting happily to attend a lecture about fungus. The line was out the door.

I sat pondering this in the animated audience hubub that lasted several minutes while Mr Arora futzed around at the front of the room getting the computer and mic set up.

"You might wonder what 'The Wheel of Fungi' refers to," he said. "Something like the wheel of life? well no." (I'm paraphrasing btw). "Or some cool fungus identification wheel where you spin things around to help you identify fungus in the field? Not that either. Actually, it's a drinking game."

Lecture is a bit of a misnomer for the eclectic and semi randomized collection of stories and slide shows that Mr Arora showed, as determined by the turn of a wheel of fortune type device that audience members got to spin for prizes.

One story was about a rough and ready mushroom picker, a big guy who swore a lot, but whose enthusiasm capped Arora's expert advice, when it came to convincing some people to try eating a new mushroom. That bugged him. He says when he revises his masterwork, Mushrooms Demystified, he'll use more lively language and not the language of the field guide genre, rather insipid.

Hm. I thought about that. Being lively and engaging. Made me think.

It was all a lot of fun, and none of it was heavy intellectual fare. It put you in the spirit of mushrooming, which I am now wondering comes directly from Mr Arora himself. Zany, enthusiastic, funny, unapologetically weird.

The prior week, I attended a talk at the Santa Cruz chapter of the California Native Plant Society, given by a young mycologist, Christian Schwartz. He was also very enthusiastic and a fun speaker. And very informational (unlike Mr Arora). There were about 30 or so grayhaired people scattered about the room, and maybe five younger folk. Most of the attendees were either on a chapter committee, or live with a committe member.

Dang. More people would have enjoyed this talk. How can we attract more people? Can't we plant people be more hip and funny, too?  Maybe?

I took a quick look over at the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz web site. ("When it Rains, it Spores.") Hm. What's this on their page: a ministers' meeting?? -- Why, they have  "Ministers" - instead of committee members.  Minister of Propaganda for gosh sake. And they have a fun mission statement in addition to their motto:
We pursue fungi out of hunger, curiosity and addiction. We seek improved access to greener grass, deeper duff and the warmth and security of togetherness...
I mean, basically, it seems, they go on treasure hunts and eat good food. (Not a lot of mention of that other aspect of some mushrooms - their ability to change consciousness!)

What do we native plant folk offer? Well, we mice do our best. Here we are volunteering in the CNPS booth at last year's San Francisco Flower and Garden show, resplendent in our ears (Ms Town on the left and Ms Country on the right):

So I've been revolving ideas. I'm now co-chair of our CNPS chapter's publicity and outreach efforts, though our efforts have not yet actually begun. Except in this post.

Sustainability, ecology, restoration, wildlife, appreciating the mystery of mother nature right here, right now. Gardening. These are interesting but not zany.

OK, let the mushroom folk have zany, we can be something else interesting and engaging especially to the younguns amungus.

I'm thinking about it. Suggestions welcome!


Town Mouse said…
I agree, let's put a stop to putting the Nay in Native!

Better publicity is a start, and I think it starts with new media. What's cool these days? Is twitter still it? Are there things younger people who care about the environment do where we could engage them?

I think one big problem is that it's harder to get hooked if you don't have a garden, and not so many young people have one. How can natives become interesting to them? And how about kids? Insects and other critters should be fascinating for them... Well, an interesting question for sure.
Brent said…
Bugs are cool to some (frightening to others, though). How about we take a break from lists of bird garden plants and publicize bug garden plants? Insects will bring the birds and other wildlife, of course. But the zany lede could be about weird bugs in your native garden.
Country Mouse said…
I like the bug idea! When I talk about encouraging wildlife, it puts off a whole set of people who just think about vermin invading their space! Different strokes for different folks I guess. Jeffrey Caldwell knows a lot about bugs. Plus he is a wonderful zany person himself, a great laugher. Maybe we can prevail upon him to be the expert at some talk we can work up together, especially focused on kids perhaps, who bring their parents of course. Thanks Brent!