Community Building Beyond Human

by Eric Bolsch

“I think any theory of change, on any temporal, spatial, or realistic scale, is worth exploring.”

Artist:  Donna Jiang

Artist: Donna Jiang

Mushrooms are bridges to the underworld, a hidden landscape beneath our feet.
— Paul Stamets, Mycologist and Author

I recently wrote a paper for my Environmental Thought course, a course I could not recommend more to people who are motivated by social and environmental movements and are eager to be involved in change. The assignments and readings inspired my classmates and I to go beyond the in-class discussions, even now–one semester later–meeting to converse about how to make change an active part of our lives. It gave me the platform to explore my interests, no matter how radical or how many assumptions are attached to it–a positive outlook on an occasionally  depressive field of study.

My passion lies in the matter of soil, seeds, sustainable and regenerative agriculture, as well as mycology. My non-passions include industrial food systems and destructive disregard for traditional and cultural seed and crop varieties. So, I began to think about how I could combine my passions to combat my non-passions.

I believe each species has a role and purpose– maybe even a purpose that is far greater than any career a human can hold and yet so invisible that we humans could never notice. Specifically, I see this superiority in fungi and its mycelial network, viewing it as a model organism for change.

Artist: Abby Maxwell

Artist: Abby Maxwell

Mycorrhizae, and fungi in general, are natural decomposers. They break down plant residues and animal remains to recycle nutrients into the soil. Some species can even take up heavy metals and toxins to clean up polluted environments. In a concept called mycorestoration, these fungal beings can be integrated into agricultural or soil systems to counteract the negative effects of industrial by-products. I don’t see this as another human bio-manipulation taking advantage of natural rhythms. Instead, I view this as the fungi stepping in, making use of humans to spread their spores, integrate them into systems, and allow them to thrive on the lands deteriorated by human activity.

It is the fungi saying, “Enough is enough,” and that it is time to return to a proper community–an ecological one–where all populations of species interact to support  the well being of one another. This contradicts the current anthropocentric framework of the world, where humans (though not all) are permitted to use other beings as tools. Perhaps instead, WE are a tool for fungi, but in a way where a symbiotic relationship benefits both fungi and humans.

As well, the mycelial network acts as a model organism in its structure. It entwines the soil biome to unite all individual beings as one massive organism, creating this community,that perhaps our human communities could be modeled after.This means reliance on the resilience of local beings–crops, labourers, goods, and services, and a deglobalization of trade, where nations rely on imports and contribute to the export of natural resources. All communities should look to their own members, no matter the species, for their well being and health.

I wish to share this with the world not because it was a cool topic for a paper I had the privilege to write, but because I think any theory of change, on any temporal, spatial, or realistic scale, is worth exploring. In a time where our generation is called upon for action, I’d say find your passions and use them to fight your non-passions. My biggest realization is that some of the smallest beings of the world are already combating the wrongs of human activity, and I am honoured to contribute to the movement.