A group of Dolores fifth-graders was one of several classes in the area so far to learn the importance of fungi in the natural world by planting their own Friday.
“Without fungi we wouldn’t have life on the planet,” explained Travis Custer, in the Dolores school garden.
After learning how fungi play a crucial role in creating topsoil from Custer and his business partner Gabe Deall, the group stuffed a bucket full of straw and mycelium, which will grow into oyster mushrooms in their classroom.
The two have been asked to give lessons to all age groups from fifth grade to the college level and hope to continue.
They use fungi as the lens to teach ecology, local food systems and land stewardship.
“We really see the importance in children being able to have opportunities to be exposed to the natural world,” Custer said.
The two set out to just farm, but they have found there is a need for education about the role of mushrooms.
“It’s been a pretty unique journey for us because we started off thinking we were just going to be an agricultural producer but we realized that the world of mycology has so much more to cater and offer to a community,” Deall said.
After being asked to teach a lesson at Kemper Elementary they saw genuine excitement in the thank you letters they received.
“That really jump-started us,” Deall said.
The two are in their second season of mushroom production in Mancos and while selling their mushrooms at the farmers market have received so many questions they also see a need for adult education.
This summer, they will offer four monthly workshops that will cover fungi’s role in the environment, cultivation, health benefits and cooking.
They plan to designate 10 percent of registration fees to teaching so that finances won’t be a barrier to teaching in public schools that can’t pay for materials.
The two are also pursuing grant funds to teach. So far, they have received a $300 mini grant from Mancos Valley Resources.