the fungal underground of a broken city

Submitted by Susan Miller on Thu, 03/04/2010 - 10:23.
a tree grows in a building

I attended a workshop on compost tea last weekend, and it has had me thinking about fungal hyphae ever since. I wrote up my observations from the workshop on Localfood Cleveland.

But here it is again - the way decay works to bring forth creativity.

I did not attend TEDX-CLE when it launched a couple weeks ago, but now the videos are posted online and I have enjoyed seeing them as I have enjoyed seeing the ones that come out of California's high priced, but widely distributed (for free) annual events. As I watched several of the speakers this morning, I couldn't help but think again about fungal hyphae.

Jeff Newman, of Steel City Soils opened his presentation on soil building and compost tea by referring to himself as a reluctant businessman and used this quote:

"You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, and we are all part of the same compost pile..." Charles Palahniuk - Fight Club

That was the part he used - he did not continue with the remainder of the quote as I assume it did not serve his point.

In addition to the idea of compost - dead and decaying material that supports new life (redundancy and resiliency in nature), again this concept came to mind: Cleveland is a broken city. The region's past industrial economy has crumbled, and it is largely over. Will our region rebound through new defense contracts like the ones that helped it to grow in the 20th century? Unlikely. What about refining fuels (a la Rockefeller)? Nope we have pretty much used up the fossil fuels. Cars? I doubt it. Is paint the answer, Sherwin Williams? Nope. SW has already covered the world and houses being torn down don't need too much more paint right now. But, out of this decay, is springing creativity and growth of a new sort. These are small things. Is not every innovation begun with a tiny speck of an idea? Does not an innovation stem from the innovator's desire to fill a need or bridge a gap? Well, Cleveland has plenty of need and lots of gaps, so it is enlivening to see what's springing up here.

As fungal hyphae migrate through such things as the decaying tree bark at the left, leaf litter, through soil, the moist pages of old, wet books, or maybe even among living cells of both plants and animals, they absorb nutrients and other substances they need. Once the hyphae attain a certain maturity and if surrounding conditions are right, then very complex changes occur inside the hyphae, and their many-shaped, many-colored, always-interesting-to-look-at reproductive structures may be formed.

One of the things that Jeff Newman pointed out is that the nutrients that plants need to survive and grow is already there. It just needs to be in a thriving marketplace - a bustling micro-city, he termed it. (Again - it is not that farmers in the global south need the aid of US multinationals to know how to grow food, they do need access to markets.)

Nature comes back. And the decay can be seen as an abomination or as a part of a natural cycle. Either way, the cycle is continuing no matter your view. We can assist. We can improve the climate for exchange of material goods and ideas. We can gripe, grouse, snipe and snip. Even the griping has its place in the cycle. It may be born of frustration, but it is constructive nonetheless. At some point we reach something close to the bottom - from which we are forced to rebound. Cleveland is rebounding - little by little because, well... it has to.

Undaunted tree grows out of a building in Dublin, Ireland. Remnant of a city in a country under siege by it's own infighting. One block away is the Guinness Brewery - the same building where Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease in 1759 and where Guinness still brews porter today.

For next year's TEDX-CLE, might I suggest Maurice Small and Algaeventures (ok not Cleveland proper, but close and really amazing), maybe even an innovator of a new computer technology who posts here at realneo?

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