When we think of mushrooms and the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca, the first thing which traditionally comes to mind is María Sabina, Huautla de Jiménez and hallucinogenic “magic” mushrooms. But slowly that’s all changing as a result of the groundbreaking work of Josefina Jiménez and Johann Mathieu in mycology, through their company, Mico-lógica.
Based in the village of Benito Juárez, located in Oaxaca’s Ixtlán district (more commonly known as the Sierra Norte, the state’s main ecotourism region), Mico-lógica’s mission is threefold: to train both Mexicans and visitors to the country in the low-cost cultivation of a variety of mushroom species; to educate about the medicinal, nutritional and environmental (sustainable) value of mushrooms; and to conduct ongoing research regarding optimum climatic regions and the diversity of substrata for mushroom culture.
The French-born Mathieu moved to Mexico, and in fact to Huautla de Jiménez, in 2005. “Yes, coming all the way to Mexico from France to pursue my interest in mushrooms seems like a long way to travel,” Mathieu explained in a recent interview in Oaxaca. “But there really wasn’t much of an opportunity to conduct studies and grow a business in Western Europe,” he continues, “since reverence for mushrooms had been all but completely eradicated by The Church over the course of centuries; and I learned that Mexico still maintains a respect and appreciation for the medicinal and nutritional value of hongos. Mexico is far from mycophobic.”
Huautla de Jiménez is more than a five hour drive from the closest metropolitan center. Accordingly, Mathieu eventually realized that staying in Huautla, while holding an historic allure and being in a geographic region conducive to working with mushrooms, would hinder his efforts to grow a business and cultivate widespread interest in learning about fungi. Mathieu became cognizant of the burgeoning reputation of Oaxaca’s ecotourism communities of the Sierra Norte, and indeed the Feria Regional de Hongos Silvestres (regional wild mushroom festival), held annually in Cuahimoloyas.
Mathieu met Josefina Jiménez at the summertime weekend mushroom event. Jiménez had moved to Oaxaca from hometown Mexico City in 2002. The two mushroom spores shared similar interests; Jiménez had studied agronomy, and for close to a decade had been working with sustainable agriculture projects in rural farming communities in the Huasteca Potosina region of San Luis Potosí, the mountains of Guerrero and the coast of Chiapas. Mathieu and Jiménez became business, and then life partners in Benito Juárez.
Mathieu and Jiménez are concentrating on three mushroom species in their hands-on seminars; oyster (seta), shitake and reishi. Their one-day workshops are for oyster mushrooms, and two-day clinics for the latter two species of fungus. “With reishi, and to a lesser extent shitake, we’re also teaching a fair bit about the medicinal uses of mushrooms, so more time is required,” says Mathieu, “and with oyster mushrooms it’s predominantly [but not exclusively] a course on cultivation.”
While training seminars are now only given in Benito Juárez, Mathieu and Jiménez plan to expand operations to include both the central valleys and coastal regions of Oaxaca. The object is to have a network of producers growing different mushrooms which are optimally suited for cultivation based on the particular microclimate. There are about 70 sub-species of oyster mushrooms, and thus as a species, the adaptability of the oyster mushroom to different climatic regions is remarkable. “The oyster can be grown in a multitude of different substrata, and that’s what we’re experimenting with right now,” he elucidates. The oyster mushroom can thrive when grown on products which would otherwise be waste, such as discard from cultivating beans, sugar cane, agave (including the fibrous waste produced in mezcal distillation), peas, the common river reed known as carriso, sawdust, and the list goes on. Agricultural waste which may otherwise be left to rot or be burned, each with adverse environmental implications, can form substrata for mushroom cultivation. It should be noted, though trite, that mushroom cultivation is a highly sustainable, green industry. Over the past several years Mexico has in fact been at the fore in many areas of sustainable industry.