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Thursday, October 25, 2018

An Exploration of Fungi, Soil Health, and World Hunger

On October 16, 2018, Elemental Impact (Ei) hosted the first Ei Exploration. A group of diverse, passionate industry leaders traveled from California, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina to participate in the Ei Exploration of Fungi, Soil Health, and World Hunger in Upstate South Carolina. The empowering day was in partnership with Ei Strategic Ally Feed & Seed.

Ei Explorations bring industry leaders and experts together to strategize on solutions for challenges facing humanity and life on our planet.

A group of Ei Exploration
attendees gathers as the event begins
Since its 2010 inception, Ei has a long history of hosting educational tours, including Ei Farm Tours, Ei Industry Tours, Ei Partner Tours, and Ei Sustainable Food Court Initiative Tours. As a forerunner in zero waste practices, the prior tours were generally educational in nature related to emerging industry standards.

In 2017 Ei announced Recycling Refinement was moved to Mission Accomplished! and the new primary focus areas are Soil Health and Water Use |Toxicity.

As a first action step within the Soil Health platform, Ei hosted the Compost's Empowering Role in Sustainable Soils panel at the 2018 U.S. Composting Council (USCC) held in Atlanta. Based on attendee feedback, the panel was the most popular breakout session panel at the conference. The RiA Blog article, GAME WON: composting council conference breaks records, gives a conference overview and features the prominent panel. The panel PPT presentations are available for download on the Ei-Hosted Panels page.

The Ei Exploration of Fungi, Soil Health, and World Hunger was the first formal Soil Health event and a strong action step within the platform.

During her July 2018 Upstate South Carolina Farm Tours, Ei Founder Holly Elmore visited Mushroom Mountain Founder & Owner Tradd Cotter for an intriguing, inspiring two-hour meeting and tour. When Tradd explained his book, Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation, included a chapter dedicated to K-12 classroom curriculum, Holly knew an introduction to Ei Advisor and Captain Planet Foundation Chair Laura Turner Seydel was imminent.

With Laura enthusiastic for a SC road trip to Mushroom Mountain, the exploration orchestration began. The ONLY common date on Laura's and Tradd's busy calendars through year-end was Tuesday, October 16. Amazing, 100% of the A-list exploration attendees were available and committed to the event.

Holly explaining the group history
© 2018 Veracity Media Group 
As she welcomed attendees to the Ei Exploration at the Mushroom Mountain facility,  Holly chronicled the history of the group's intertwining relationships spanning the last decade. Going back to 2008, Holly explained she met Feed & Seed Executive Director Mike McGirr when he was Laura's personal chef. Mike joined the 2008 Celebration of Grassfed Beef Chefs' Tour of White Oak Pasture's recently opened slaughterhouse. Joel Kimmons with the Center for Disease Control also participated in the Grassfed Beef Tour coordinated by Holly and attended the Ei Exploration.

At the January 2008 Georgia Restaurant Association Local, Sustainable & Green Roundtable meeting, CREATE Program Director Jonathan Tescher spoke in his then capacity as the first Farmer Services Coordinator for Georgia Organics. The powerful meeting launched the Green Foodservice Alliance (GFA) where Holly served as Founder & Executive Director.

The Zero Waste Zones (ZWZ), the nation's forerunner in the commercial collection of food waste for compost, launched in February 2009 within the GFA. In 2010, Ei was formed as the new home for the ZWZ. Laura served as the ZWZ Chair from its launch until the 2012 sale to the National Restaurant Association.

Over the years, Ei worked closely with then Good Earth Farms Owner Jim Lanier on establishing food waste collection for compost practices in the Charlotte market. The important work was via the Sustainable Food Court Initiative (SFCI) and later the EPA Scaling Up Composting in Charlotte, NC Grant where Ei was a subgrantee. Additionally, Jim was invited to the Ei Exploration for his missionary work in Central and South America.

Georgia World Congress Center Authority Director of Sustainability Tim Trefzer joined the powerful day as a member of the Ei Leadership team. When the Georgia Dome accepted the invitation to serve as the SFCI Event Venue Pilot in 2012, Tim's close working relationship with Ei began.

Laura & Kathy at Mushroom
Holly first met Ei Supporter Kathy Kellogg Johnson, Kellogg Garden Products (KGP) Chair, at the 2010 USCC Conference and later reconnected at the 2015 National Zero Waste Conference. In 2017 a lovely bond developed between Holly and Kathy within the weekly Kiss The Ground calls for "The Compost Story" video launch. Kathy presented on the previously mentioned Ei-hosted panel Compost's Empowering Role in Sustainable Soils at the 2018 USCC Conference.

At the conference, Holly introduced Kathy to then Southern Farm & Garden (SF&G) Publisher Nancy Suttles. Subsequently, the 2018 spring & summer SF&G issues featured articles on KGP's nearly 100-years old history as well as their unwavering commitment to certified-organic gardening products. Holly wrote the article on KGP's history.

The summer SF&G issue published The Story of the Bradford Watermelon on how Nat Bradford is reviving the family heirloom melon. During Holly's Upstate SC Farm Tours, Nat's name kept coming up and it was natural for him to join the exploration.

Nancy launching VMG
at Mushroom Mountain
Ei Partner Veracity Media Group (VMG) founded by Nancy as a proprietary multi-media platform officially launched at the Ei Exploration. VMG Chief Operating Officer Robert Witcher and Senior Contributing Producer Morgan Rhodes joined Nancy at the exploration to document the empowering day. Holly and Nancy connected when they were 18 years old and competitive collegiate gymnasts.

Feed & Seed Chair Mary Hipp joined the exploration and with southern hospitality provided scrumptious local pastries for the attendees to enjoy.

Following Holly's interwoven history shared by the group, each participant took several minutes to introduce themselves with a focus on their livelihood, expertise, and passions. At the end of the article, a list of attendees along with their snippet bios is included.

The Magical World of Fungi
Tradd took center stage with an awesome overview of his background, the formation of Mushroom Mountain, and the magical world of fungi. Setting the tone for his talk and tour, Tradd began with the following empowering quote:
Every morning I wake up and ask what can I do to make a difference today.
Starting as a simple laboratory in the closet of Tradd & his wife Olga's Boynton Beach apartment, Mushroom Mountain blossomed into a world-class laboratory and research facility located in Easley, SC. With over 50,000 square feet of available enclosed space for cultivation, mycoremediation, and medicinal research projects, Mushroom Mountain is exploring and pioneering innovative applications of fungi that replace toxic-based pest controls and often ineffective modern medical treatments.

Arrival at Mushroom Mountain
Fungi is one of the Six Kingdoms of Life; the other five kingdoms are Archaebacteria (oldest known living organisms; single-celled and thrive in extremely hot boiling water),  Eubacteria (single-celled bacterial organisms), Protista (single-celled organisms, such as algae and slime molds; catch-all kingdom for microscopic organisms that do not meet other kingdom criteria), Plants (multi-celled organisms who create their own food through photosynthesis) and Animals (complex, multi-celled organisms who feed upon other organisms).

Long thought closer to the Plant Kingdom, fungi are actually closer to the Animal Kingdom. Fungi are heterotrophic, meaning they do not produce their own food like plants and must obtain energy from outside sources similar to animals. Additionally, fungi breath oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. At the heart of fungi are feathery filaments called hyphae that conglomerate to form mycelium. With the exception of yeast, most fungi are multicellular.

Beyond the important fermentation properties of yeast critical for crafting bread, wine, and beer, fungi are integral to life on planet Earth. Often referred to as the internet or highway system of soils, mycorrhizal fungi form a symbiotic relationship with plant roots. The plant provides the fungi carbohydrates (sugars) from its photosynthesis process and the fungi provide phosphorus, nitrogen, and other micronutrients to the plant roots. Truffles, chanterelles, and king boletes are edible mushroom blooms from mycorrhizal fungi.

According to the 2015 Oxford Academic article, Inter-plant communication through mycorrhizal networks mediates complex adaptive behaviour in plant communities, vast mycorrhizal networks (MN) of hyphae provide benefits well beyond the symbiotic relationship with plant roots. The following is an excerpt from the article:
These MNs are composed of continuous fungal mycelia linking two or more plants of the same or different species. The MN can thus integrate multiple plant species and multiple fungal species that interact, provide feedbacks and adapt, which comprise a complex adaptive social network. The MN is considered ecologically and evolutionarily significant because of its positive effects on the fitness of the member plants and fungi. Our understanding of this significance derives from evidence that MNs influence the survival, growth, physiology, health, competitive ability and behaviour of the plants and fungi linked in the network. How the MN affects the member plants and fungi is increasingly understood to involve plant–fungal–plant communication, and may involve biochemical signaling.
pink oyster mushroom
According to the May 2017 National Geographic article, The World's Largest Living Organism, an armillaria ostoyae fungus covering 2,385 acres of the Malheur National Forest in Oregon is the largest living organism and estimated at 2,400 to 8,650 years old. Edible honey mushrooms bloom from the fungus. Controversial, the armillaria ostoyae fungus attaches to conifer trees roots eventually killing the tree.

In his recently released Dirt to Soil, One Family's Journey into Regenerative Agriculture, Gabe Brown includes "limited disturbance" as one of his five principles of soil health. According to Gabe, "Tillage destroys soil structure. It is constantly tearing apart the "house" that nature builds to protect the living organisms in the soil that create natural soil fertility." MN are the foundation of the "house" nature builds.

At Mushroom Mountain's lab, Tradd and his team are exploring beneficial fungi properties in medicinal and agricultural realms. On a simplistic level, Mushroom Mountain offers a line of USDA Organic-Certified Mycomatrix Adaptogenic Extracts that are available in consumer-sized containers, counter dispensers for the food & beverage industry as well as in bulk for manufacturers to augment their products.

On a more complex level, targeted insects eat cordyceps fungi spores, which then attack the insect's nervous system and brain eventually killing the victim. The fungi sporulate inside of the mummified body and sprout through the exoskeleton spreading spores to the remaining colony. Species-specific, the fungi spores will only harm the targeted species. Cordyceps fungi have the potential to completely disrupt the current toxic-chemical based pesticides predominant in agriculture along with home and commercial pest control.

During the impressive lab tour, Tradd passed around a mummified insect he found with the fungi protruding through the head. Nat asked Tradd if he could help with a pesky beetle attacking one of his crops. Next spring Nat is to collect a live sample of the beetle so Tradd may develop a targeted fungi pest solution.

The group heads to the
incubation room
Mycelium is highly adaptable and may produce enzymes to destroy foreign objects that enter its network. Once it is identified, the destructive enzyme may be cultured for further use. Alternatively, the mycelium may be "trained" to produce the enzyme for purposes of destroying the targeted object or life form. Thus, fungi have a strong restoration potential, whether used as a targeted medicine for a human parasite infestation, cleaning up an oil spill or other toxic-laden areas, or breaking down petroleum-based plastics into simpler carbon molecular structures.

Highly respected, Tradd is leading discoveries and practical applications within mycology. As a Clemson graduate, Tradd often works closely with the Clemson microbiology department on his research work. The 2016 National Geographic video You Didn't Know Mushrooms Could Do All This gives an excellent overview of Tradd's impressive research and accomplishments.

From their website, the following excerpt gives a concise statement on Mushroom Mountain's intended purpose:
Mushroom Mountain is a company that focuses on the needs of the planet, developing food and systems for filtering water, creating prototypes for novel antibiotic discovery, isolating target specific myco-pesticides to replace chemical pesticides for problematic insects, and many other projects that use fungi to harmonize our coexistence with nature.
The magical world of fungi is blossoming and wizards like Tradd are harnessing the magic into practical, safe applications for the consumer, agriculture use and beyond.

Lovely Local Lunch
Feed & Seed orchestrated a lovely lunch at 1826 Bistro on the Green in Pendelton. Along with devouring the delectable food, Ei Exploration attendees enjoyed getting to know each other and discovering common synergies.

Adyson's chicken entree
© 2018 Veracity Media Group
For the lunch entre, attendees were treated to the option of Adyson Ashley's home-raised, organic chicken - what a treat! Over a year ago, eleven-year old Adyson started her chicken business with a $1500 loan from her grandparents. With the funds, Adyson purchased her first set of chicks, materials to build cages, and other equipment. The chickens are grass fed with a rotation method and supplemented with home-grown soldier fly larvae; no antibiotics or steroids are administered on the chickens.

As the business owner, Adyson dedicates time every day to raising the chicks along with processing the mature birds. Adyson's Dad helps with tasks requiring height and strength. The May 2017 Greenville News article, This 10-year-old girl is raising high quality, grass-fed premium chickens that chefs love, showcases Adyson's impressive young business.

The lunch first course was a luscious soup made with a Dutch fork pumpkin from the Bradford Watermelon Farm. Nat brought one of his Cherokee heirloom pumpkins to lunch and explained how it was different from varieties found at markets. Laura purchased the pumpkin to share the seeds with Truly Living Well, an Atlanta urban agriculture haven.

After lunch, the group traveled to the Clemson University Organic Student Research Farm to learn about Clemson's empowering contributions to solving local and world hunger challenges.

World Hunger & More

A common thread among many of the Ei Exploration attendees was a personal commitment to ending world hunger via missionary work, soil rebuilding efforts, and growing food. Nat founded Watermelons for Water where Bradford Watermelon seeds are planted in impoverished areas to provide a sweet, filtered nutritious water source. Once germinated, the watermelon plants can flourish without irrigation and filter non-potable water into clean drinking water. Proceeds from Bradford Watermelons fund the important program.

Kathy & Tradd at the
Clemson Farm
Kathy donates her time and expertise for Plant with Purpose. Several times a year, Kathy travels to Africa with Plant with Purpose and teaches indigenous tribes how to rebuild their diminished soils with compost. In general, the soils were devastated due to deforestation and left unable to support plant life. As mentioned in the History section, Jim participates in Central and South America missionary trips twice per year.

Mushroom Mountain developed Mushroom Rescue Modules in ready-to-ship, plastic boxes that are suitable for airdropping to refugee camps, natural disasters and other scenarios in need of a protein source. The boxes contain growing media, starter cultures, insect netting, and mosquito attractant. In addition to fruiting mushrooms in as little as 10 -14 days, the media can filter bacterial pathogens to minimize the risk of cholera and other water-borne pathogens.

Due to its natural exudation of octanol gas trails, the media may be used to vector mosquitos away from sleeping villagers and reduce the risk of bites from virus-carrying females. Finally, the media can be composted into a rich soil substrate to perpetuate vegetable and plant production.

The March 2017 Gleaner - Kingston article, US-Based Expert To Conduct Workshops On Growing Mushrooms, announces 'The Magic of Mushrooms' workshops hosted by The Source Farm Foundation in Johns Town, St Thomas, coordinators of the Jamaica Sustainable Farm Enterprise Programme, and was funded by USAID. At the workshops, Tradd taught how to cultivate mushrooms for consumption and how to use them for medicine, pest management, termite eradication, mosquito control, the break-down of plastic waste, and the clean-up of industrial pollution.

Mike speaking re:
Feed &Seed's imp work
© 2018 Veracity Media Group
Closer to home, Feed & Seed's Farm To Belly program teaches families how to access, grow, and prepare vegetables in new and innovative ways. Partnering with GHS Children's Hospital, recipe bags are delivered to daycares with the ingredients for a family to prepare and share a healthy meal together. Farm To Belly brings the often lost art of cooking back into the family unit. The short video, Farm & Seed + Farm To Belly, gives a solid overview of the important local program.

At the Clemson Farm, Mike welcomed the group to the farm and gave a more detailed overview of Feed & Seed work-in-progress and successes. Next Mike introduced the farm managers who shared the variety of important research and simple farming activities in-process at the organic farm.

In addition to serving as an experimental research farm, hosting training and other events, the farm grows test crops specific to the Farm To Belly recipe kits. Once vetted, the test crops are deployed to local farms for large-scale cultivation and sale into communities with food access challenges.

The farm supports a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program which is available to Clemson faculty, staff, and students and the outside community. The CSA was open for participant produce collection during the Ei Exploration program.

The Plant | Soil Connection
The final speaker for the day, Clemson Professor Stephen Kresovich, Ph.D. (Steve), Endowed Chair of Genetics in the Department of Genetics and Biochemistry and the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, brought the conversations into expanded dimensions. Steve is an active Feed & Seed Board Member.

Steve sharing on his extensive
plant genetic research
© 2018 Veracity Media Group
According to his Clemson profile, Steve's research objectives are: (1) to identify genes of the sorghum, sugar cane, and maize genomes impacting evolution, domestication or crop improvement, (2) to characterize and understand the relationship between DNA sequence variation and desirable phenotypes, (3) to characterize molecular and phenotypic diversity of sorghum, sugar cane, and maize in natural populations, landraces, and elite germplasm, and (4) to develop and test strategies to efficiently discover, conserve, and use variation in natural populations and genebank collections by integrating current advances in genomics, bioinformatics, and plant genetics/breeding.

As stated in his The Will to Lead for Clemson video, Steve's research focusses on utilizing genetic resources of agricultural crops so that better systems for production of food, feed, fiber, and energy may be developed. Steve's endowed position enables him new opportunities to lead high risk, high reward research.

A member of the Cornell faculty since 1998, Steve left his prestigious Cornell position, Vice Provost for Life Sciences, in 2009 to join the University of South Carolina as Vice President for Research and Graduate Education. In 2013, Steve accepted the endowed Clemson position where he may once again actively lead research projects.

One of the ways Steve's research tackles global hunger and nutrition is by using genetic analysis to identify strains of sorghum and other grains that produce more nutritious, higher-yield crops. In early October a short YouTube video announced a research project in this arena with Professor Bill Rooney of Texas A&M University, Steve's alma mater for his Masters in Agronomy.

Mary during the healthy
school lunch discussion
Within his talking points, Steve connected the dots between plants, soils, and global hunger issues. One of his research areas is determining what nutritional plants may thrive in food-deprived areas due to soil destruction for various reasons, including deforestation, unsustainable farming practices, and war/terrorism. The Upstate SC region is blessed with a variety of soil types and climate profiles; thus, the Upstate is an ideal location for plant and crop research that makes a global impact.

An October 11 Clemson media release, Clemson researchers optimizing pulse and cereal crops for organic production in S.C., announces a nearly $1 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture. The grant is to develop pulse and cereal grain crops that can be grown organically in South Carolina and to help South Carolina farmers benefit from growing these crops organically. Steve is the co-lead on the grant that begins in January 2019.

Steve's presentation points spurred a lively discussion on the importance of healthy food in schools. Mary shared the success story of phasing in healthy food at Greenville schools, starting with the younger elementary students. As the students graduated to middle school, the healthy lunch program was implemented in the middle school. Integral to the successful program was nurturing the student palette to enjoy healthy food. Feed & Seed creates channels for local produce to enter the school food procurement systems, benefiting local farm economies and providing students with fresher, nutrient-rich produce.

Nancy with the Cotter family
During Steve's session, Mushroom Mountain Owner & CEO Olga Cotter joined the group along Tradd and their beautiful daughter Heidi. The timing was perfect for Olga give her perspective on the healthy food discussion in-process.

The Ei FB album, An Exploration of Fungi, Soil Health & World Hunger, gives a pictorial recap of the empowering day. Thank you to Veracity Media Group for documenting the day with still photos and video captures.

The Ei Exploration of Fungi, Soil Health, and World Hunger laid the groundwork for a diverse group of industry experts and leaders to work together on crafting solutions for the many challenges facing life on planet Earth. Collective action is incredibly more powerful and effective than individual action. Stay tuned as a new chapter in healing the planet is unfolding.


Snippet Bios of Ei Exploration Attendees:

Nat Bradford – Founder of Eco Art based on the principles of creativity & stewardship to nurture holistic sustainable landscape architecture; Founder of Watermelons for Water a philanthropic cause funded by the proceeds from their watermelon harvest; maintains the breedline of the 170-year old family heirloom, the Bradford watermelon.

Tradd Cotter – Founder & Owner of Mushroom Mountain, renowned fungi expert; works closely with Clemson Microbiology Department.

Holly Elmore – Founder & CEO of Elemental Impact, a national non-profit focused on soil health; photographer and photojournalist; passionate about the soil & water microbial communities.

Mary Hipp - Feed & Seed Chair; works in the nonprofit sector as a board member, volunteer, and consultant with a focus on arts, environment, food access, and Great Danes.

Kathy Kellogg Johnson – Kellogg Garden Products Chair & Director of Sustainability; nearly 100-years strong, family-owned KGP is a leader in 100% organic gardening products, including soils, compost & beneficial insects; Kathy is happy to learn and hang with soil aficionados.

Joel Kimmons, Ph.D. – CDC Nutrition Scientist; wrote the federal foodservice guidelines for federal facilities used by the feds, states, and private industry;  created a healthy building program recognized as one of the top ten world start-ups in 2017; in 2008 -2010 brought Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, Carlo Petrini, Michel Nishcan and others in the food movement to the CDC for multiple-event programs in partnership with Georgia Organics or other local groups;  grew up on an amazing regenerative farm in TN known as Moonshadow.

Stephen Kresovich, Ph.D. - Clemson University College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences Robert and Lois Coker Trustees Endowed Chair of Genetics in the Department of Genetics and Biochemistry and the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences.

Jim Lanier – Founder of Earth Farms, a pioneer food waste composting facility in Charlotte; sold Earth Farms in 2016; knowledgeable of and passionate about soil health; participates in missionary work in Central & South America.

Mike McGirr – Founder & Executive Director of Feed & Seed; back in 2008 was Laura Turner Seydel’s private chef; leading a regenerative & food resilience movement in Upstate SC.

Morgan Rhodes – Veracity Media Group Senior Contributing Producer; an award-winning filmmaker and owner of Journey Blue Media, which provides high-end photo and video documentary tools that strengthen storytelling.

Laura Turner Seydel – Captain Planet Foundation Chair, Turner Foundation Board Member, Ted Turner’s eldest daughter, environmental activist.

Nancy Suttles - Veracity Media Group Founder & Chief Creative Officer; independent multimedia content developer and publisher; Co-Founder / Publisher of Southern Farm & Garden. Currently developing a proprietary innovative platform for an independent global media company.

Jonathan Tescher - Program Manager for CREATE, a small food and agriculture business incubator operated in partnership between Clark Atlanta University and the Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship; started the East Atlanta Village Farmers Market; co-founded Community Farmers Markets, an organization that manages six farmers markets across Atlanta; served as the first Farmer Services Coordinator for Georgia Organics.

Tim Trefzer -  Ei Regenerative Facilities Initiative Chair and Georgia World Congress Center Authority Director of Sustainability; interested in exploring corporate campus regenerative landscape practices, mainly for 20-acre Olympic Centennial Park.

Robert Witcher – Veracity Media Group Chief Operating Officer; expertise in logistics, business strategy, analytics, finance, and HR; recent UPS executive retiree with 44 years tenure.

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