By Dr Jovana Vunduk

Mushroom production might seems like a rooted job, although these organisms are not plants and have no roots. And this is not the worst of the prejudices connected with the mushroom growing. If someone ask me to pick one word that people use to describe mushroom cultivation, than it would be “dark”.

So, while spending my time between “dark” laboratory and “dark” mushroom growing tunnel in Ekofungi, a company that is all about those creepy mushroom creatures, an e-mail from Gunter Pauli and the ZERI foundation came. It was a proposition, an invite from the Ministry of Argentina and the Government of Colonia Caroya. An invite to come there and support their effort in developing new business opportunities in this incredible country. Rooted job? Do not think so.

The people behind this project did not see mushroom growing as an obscure business conducted only by bizarre individuals. On the contrary, they have recognized it as a great chance to use organic waste materials in a country that has been famous for its agriculture. It sounds nice-but is it possible, and more important, is it possible without an expensive high tech infrastructure and significant investments? Well, we are about to see.

Our Ekofungi team discussed a plan of action. Should we organize a mushroom cultivation school there, or build a mushroom growing unit? A general plan was made, but soon I am about to discover that things in Argentina are far from plans made in some cabinet.

From the cold July morning in Buenos Aires this mushroom job started to look like an adventure. And guess what-it was not me who started the teaching about mushroom farming. Instead I became a student of Argentinian culture. And everything started with Mate! A national drink so common that soon enough it became a part of my daily routine, if one can say that there is something like daily routine in Argentina! How it tastes, and what is the effect of this magnificent drink? Shortly-one sip of mate and I was fresh like after a good sleep and that was after 22 hours of travel! It was not long before I started to imagine a mushroom produced on a waste parts of this invigorating herb.

Nine hours of driving from Buenos Aires to Colonia Caroya went in a moment thanks to the magnificent three-Max, Francois and Julien. And mate ;). Have to admit that the view was not exciting for a traveler: a vast fields of corn, soy and wheat. A mushroom grower’s heaven! Next was Macadam restaurant and the warm welcome from the people of the small community of Colonia Caroya. Fernando and his mom, Daniel, Gustavo (actually two of them), Mariela, Martin, Dani, German, Eduardo-government, teachers, enthusiasts, business men, chef, journalists, all together joined in a pleasant chat over a table, with the support of the famous Colonia Caroya salami, cheese and wine. Tomorrow is for mushrooms…

And just to contemplate before the big day: The crucial component for the mushroom production is a high quality substrate. For such a substrate one needs cellulose raw materials, just like corn stalks and cubs, wheat straw, soy waste, tree branches-all those waste materials that are present in abundance in Argentina…