Lunchrooms, Mushrooms, and Potlucks

Lunchrooms, Mushrooms, and Potlucks
The opening of our [storefront] Mushroom Farm on Tuesday brought a healthy dose of surprises and delights last week. We installed the mushrooms on Sunday, a fun if extremely juicy experience, and opened as a community lunchroom on Tuesday. On Friday, we finally saw progress in the struggle to maintain 80% humidity inside the farm when we added a Vicks vaporizer in addition to misting the farm by hand.

Each day, we watched more and more people tour the farm during lunch, leaving their offices to come together with leftovers and brown bag lunches at our communal table. We also discovered that one of our coffee partners, Zeitgeist, changed the way that they dispose of waste in order to increase their production of grounds. Now, they are able to use grounds from both espresso and drip coffee after ceasing to co-mingle milk waste with their spent espresso shots.

We had hoped to see a host of changes like these when we originally set out, but like any experiment involving nature --plant, animal, fungal or human-- things unfold in their own time. 

With all of this happening in one week (plus enthusiastic coverage in the New York TimesInhabitatArchitizer, and Atlantic Cities), it's no wonder that our eyes are set intentionally on the week ahead, which is filled with both community lunchroom hours as well as evening events.

Setting the stage for these gatherings was Friday's first convocation held by the 2012 Jack Straw Writers: a potluck dinner on the eve of our first voice training workshop.

Lunchrooms, Mushrooms, and Potlucks
After touring the mushroom farm, we found ourselves adding our own layer to the experience of the space in the form of conversation, stories, and wondering aloud how the coming year would unfold for us as a group. One writer flew in from Walla Walla, another drove in from Port Townsend; the rest of us filled in from around Puget Sound. We were each in turn excited and nervous about our first studio session in the morning, beginning to trust each other enough to share ideas and talk about our individual projects, which are all distinct: poetry, long fiction and short stories, to essays, travel writing and non-fiction.

We made oaths of future meetings: writing a novena cycle together, which involves staying up all night to write each hour on the hour, and an overnight retreat on Orcas Island, as well as  Saturday workshop sessions where we can share feedback over the course of the year.

Soaking it all in --the 50s and 60s girl-group channel that played in the background, the warmth of the lights on exposed brick, the gentle glow of the farm, the taste of porcini mushrooms in a side dish and creminis in a casserole, and the sound of our collective pauses and laughter breaking like waves-- I thought of all the things that might have happened in this space over the past century and all the things that will happen in the next few weeks.

Then, I thanked the universe for inventing mushrooms.

Added by Gabriela

Win a free dinner with MacArthur Genius Gary Nabhan!

How?
It’s simple. Each time you purchase a coffee at participating cafes between 2/21 and 3/1, tweet #shroomfarm and @citylab7 with your location and number of shots purchased. You are now connected to our loyalty program and to other coffee drinkers, mushroom farmers, and baristas. Frequent customers who play along will be eligible for prizes. Top participants (min 10 coffees) are eligible to win a pair of Golden Tickets to our exclusive Harvest Dinner event and salon with MacArthur Genius Gary Nabhan and Viva Farms Director Sarita Schaffer on Saturday March 3rd. 

More info here: [storefront] Mushroom Farm Loyalty Program

 

The Mothership (aka Mushroom Greenhouse)

The [storefront] Mushroom Farm is taking shape!

Last week, a field team comprised of members from CityLab7, Olson Kundig Architects, and Schuchart/Dow built and erected the mushroom Mothership -- as well as planter boxes and a long dining table for our family-style celebration dinner on March 3.

The Mothership (aka Mushroom Greenhouse)

The Mothership is absolutely beautiful! The ribs of the structure, designed by Olson Kundig, function as shelves that will hold 215 mushroom bags (see On The Farm.) General contractor Schuchart/Dow led the construction of the Mothership, which is made from reclaimed plywood (concrete form boards that would otherwise end up in the landfill.)

The Mothership (aka Mushroom Greenhouse)

Using building information modeling (BIM) software, the design and construction team was able to determine the most efficient configuration for cutting the ribs from the donated materials using the University of Washington's CNC machine.

The Mothership (aka Mushroom Greenhouse)
The Mothership (aka Mushroom Greenhouse)

Once the structure was framed, the crew topped it with a layer of heat-sensitive plastic sheeting donated by Mega Wrap. After the quick application of a torch, the plastic is now taut, creating a cocoon-like structure that will house the mushrooms after they're delivered next week.

The Mothership (aka Mushroom Greenhouse)

 

On the Farm

On the Farm

Earlier this week Stephen and Chris met up with Alex at his mushroom farm in Bellingham, Washington. The reason for the trek up Interstate 5 was to document how to repurpose a cubic yard of spent coffee grounds (collected from coffee shops in Seattle) into a grow medium for growing gourmet oyster mushrooms!

On the Farm

First we dumped all the coffee grounds collected over a five day period into the bucket of the bobcat. Which is Alex's favorite toy on the farm.

On the Farm

Beep Beep!

On the Farm
Next the grounds were loaded into the commercial mixer. A bit of water was added to keep the grounds moist. Also added to the mix was 35% sawdust and 5% grain

On the Farm

On the Farm

On the Farm

Out comes the mixture into bags, which are neatly folded and placed on the pasteurization rack.

On the Farm

On the Farm

Once loaded (about 225 bags) the rack is pushed into the pasteurizer to sterilize the coffee grounds. 

On Tuesday we head back to learn all about the next step, inoculation!

While Fertile Grounds readies for [storefront] Pop-up, Bettr Ventures shows its stuff

We've had major activity this week laying exciting groundwork for Fertile Grounds Pop-Up collaboration with OKA on [storefront] Mushroom Farm. Our gourmet mushroom farmer Alex Winstead from Cascadia Mushrooms consulted with Olsen Kundig Architects Alan Maskin, Michael Picard, and Kirsten Murray and general contractor partner Schuchart/Dow on the grow room as well concepts for interpretive elements and furnishings for walk-in [storefront] visitors and intentional guests alike. Then over 40 gallons of ultra-locally sourced coffee grounds from Caffe UmbriaZeitgeist Coffee, and the 400 Occidental South Starbucks moved to Cascadia's facilities, in preparation for next week's bagging and inoculation event. 

Perhaps a portend of accelerated serendipity, this week has also seen much wider coverage of the grow-at-home mushroom kits sold by Bettr Ventures'. Over the past few years, Bettr Ventures has really scaled up as a mature consumer product that is sourced and distributed nationally from Oakland. Yes, both our endeavors involve spent coffee grounds in growing gourmet mushrooms.  And certainly Bettr Ventures is a growing local employer for West Oakland, and getting a second use from coffee grounds diverted from California landfills. Yet the two undertakings couldn't be any more different.  Fertile Grounds is fundamentally a local food utility experiment, one that is exploring the possibilities of a whole new industrial ecology and a web of social connections around food choices and local food systems beyond collaborative consumption that include loyalty incentives with participating neighborhood cafes, shared meals and curated events at [storefront]. 

We Labcoats are so fortunate to be able to invest our limited grant resources at OKA [storefront] and its mission to support exactly this kind of investigation with its own resources and creativity. And we've connected with a gourmet food producer who not only has the expertise, curiosity and playfulness to explore with us, he is also thinking how this Pop-Up might help grow his business in a larger market.  Together we are testing more than points of social, economic and ecological connection and leverage to one of people's most social daily food choices --coffee. We are all about being accessible to a variety of publics, being engaged, and curating conviviality.

Growing design ideas for [storefront] Mushroom Farm

More than gourmet mushrooms grow from rooms with subdued lighting! Seen here is the CL7+OKA team meeting with our mushroom farmer and general contractor partners as we develop a design for the [storefront] grow room. As the design moves from sketches to BIM for material take-offs and build-party templates, our first collection of local cafes' coffee grounds will be bagged and inoculated with mushroom spores.

Stephen

Grounds for Gathering

Thanks to the generosity of our coffee partners―Zeitgeist, Caffe Umbria, and Starbucks―we saved 40 pounds of spent coffee grounds from the waste stream last week. With this first draw, we’re nearly halfway to our goal of 100 pounds! 

This coming week, we hope to recover at least that much, if not more (a few buckets “disappeared” from one of our collection sites, an unforeseen set-back.) 

While those buckets of grounds multiply, we’ll set the efforts of the past three years into motion, beginning with a team meeting on Monday afternoon. Chris and Gab will gather at Olson Kundig’s office to discuss space planning and design parameters with Michael Picard, project manager for [storefront] Olson Kundig Architects, and Jim Dow of Schuchart/Dow, who has offered to donate much-needed construction services. 

When our concepts are cooked enough to receive feedback, we’ll share them at another Olson Kundig crit session, likely on Thursday, January 26. Will our design include a wall or maze of mushrooms? What will the window display look like? Will we dine in the front, middle or back? Will we counterweight bags of mushrooms with reclaimed grounds? Which parts and pieces will move and morph and change, now that engineer impresario Phil Turner is working with us? 

Whatever ideas come to fruition, we’ll leave that evening with a design and a plan for building out the [storefront] Mushroom Farm installation. Until then, there’s much to be done as the coffee levels rise... 

This week, we’ll design a logo mark, update our website and Facebook page, confirm speakers for our hosted events, consult with Alex of Cascadia Mushrooms (our mushroom farmer) and Ethan Schaffer of GrowFood.org (our fiscal sponsor), and test options for our loyalty program.

At some point, we’ll need to buy the lab coats we’ve always dreamed of wearing and hire interns to help us staff the [storefront] Mushroom Farm during lunch hours (yes, Stephen, we’ll finally have interns!) 

As this comes together, it’s been fun to consider another kind of loyalty program: the one we committed to in January 2009 when we came together as CityLab7 hoping to work differently―and work together―to change the world. We’ve met many challenges along the way, both internal and external, as our lives have changed dramatically in three years.

Yet, the fact that we’re still here and more energized than ever says something important about our dedication to this idea and each other. As the saying goes, therein lies the value of membership.