For generations coming of age during the climate crisis, the powerful organisms are more important than ever
Cassandra Posey was a 25-year-old fashion branding consultant living in the Lower East Side of Manhattan when, in the spring of 2018, she and a girlfriend got into a near-strangers car bound for Baltimore. The driver was a friend-of-a-friend named William Padilla-Brown, a dreadlocked permaculturist who sold mushrooms and their cultures from his home in Asheville, North Carolina.
He and Posey had recently begun exchanging messages on Instagram, where they bonded over a shared interest in plant-based medicines. When Padilla-Brown offered to drive Posey to a workshop he was giving on spirulina cultivation, she lied that her friend was going through a difficult breakup and would need to tag along, just in case the ride should warrant a wingwoman.
We hopped in the car, Posey recalls, and Ill never forget, he was playing some creepy house music and I was like, Oh, its going to be one of those rides, you know?
But almost immediately, they became a couple; about as quickly, Posey started a mushroom business of her own. Within a year, joined by Padilla-Browns four-year-old son, Leo, they would relocate to a farm in rural Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, to raise chickens, tend a garden and spread the gospel of fungi.
As far as hobbies go, mycology the study, collection and cultivation of fungi has never been wildly removed from the mainstream. Upwards of 90 local mushroom clubs exist throughout the US and Canada; members host foraging walks and help each other tackle subtle taxonomical variants.
Despite its quiet proliferation, mushroom hunting has, until recently, retained something of an old-world mystique. The age demographic associated with the activity has been, accordingly, not exactly young. But sometime in the last decade, theres been a shift.
On Instagram, hashtags like #mushroomhunting and #mushroomsofinstagram have been used more than a million times. The photos depict prized edibles on the forest floor crinkle-capped morels or vase-like chanterelles and, naturally, bright-eyed influencers proudly cradling armfuls of Technicolor chicken of the woods.
As younger generations come of age in an era of climate catastrophe, more and more members of the Gen Z and millennial cohorts are turning to the earth for answers to their own wellbeing and the health of the planet. Their burgeoning mushroom madness just might be the quintessential sign of the times.
Posey, Padilla-Brown, and little Leo were among the more than 300 mushroom enthusiasts most in their 20s and 30s who recently set up camp on a tract of land in upstate New Yorks Adirondack Park for the second annual New Moon Mycology Summit.
The summits packed program included workshops on DIY mushroom cultivation and guided walks to identify medicinal plants. Environmental stewardship was a recurrent theme of conversation throughout, which was infused with the language of anti-capitalist activism and an emphasis on living more reciprocally with nature amid an economy of extraction.