San Diego Mycological Society’s 24th Annual Mushroom Fair: A Mushroom Encounter

Mushroom Foray at Flinn Springs County Park.

The mushroom: symbol of ecological renewal, alternative medicine, psychedelic exploration. I see them everywhere these days: on clothes, murals and stickers, in the grow kits I can buy at my kids’ school and in the documentary section of Netflix (fantastic mushrooms2019).

Here in San Diego, the love of mushrooms has had its place for more than two decades in the San Diego Mycological Society, created by founder Elio Schaecter and a small group of enthusiasts. Pat Nolan, a 24-year-old club veteran, says “mushrooms have become the fashionable thing”, but that she and the group have been here since “before the mushroom boom”. For Pat, a retired plant pathologist, a longtime involvement with fungal plant pathogens led to an interest in other fungi that she was able to pursue in the club with like-minded individuals, people like Cassandra Ablola, the club’s current president, who says she has “always loved mushrooms”. His “first mushroom-loving memory was Campbell’s Mushroom Soup,” and it only grew from there. She sees mushrooms with her artist’s eye; not everyone would call the microscopic forms of a mold “so pretty”. (While mushrooms may have a certain place in the group, his comment on molds reminds me that mushrooms are a broader category than fungi, encompassing “gazillions of molds” and – most importantly, to my review – the delicious truffle. .)

Pat Nolan and Cassandra Ablola.

Photograph by Claudette Wilson

There are many different angles from which people find mycological issues interesting: the club supports those with culinary interests, as well as mushroom growers and pickers, and even dyers. Cassandra makes small ceramic mushrooms. The group has helped its members learn about mycoremediation – the fungus-powered decontamination of environments – as well as building with fungus-based materials. Their 24th annual mushroom fair was held on February 27; it attracted an impressive 80 new members. Pat also gave a lecture on March 7 on plant pathology and mycology. Upcoming events include a film screening in Encinitas of Psychedelia: The History and Science of Mystical Experienceand a members-only “Mushroom Mixer” at a local mead that will feature appetizers from the club’s chef.

Cassandra and Pat both tell me that the social element of the group is of paramount importance to them. They enjoy potlucks, meeting new people, being outdoors together on forays, and spending time with people who share their interests. Learning, camaraderie and fun in the natural world all grow together. Meetings are open to the public and take place on the first Monday of each month.

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