The Culture Club holds inaugural meeting over kombucha and an epic feast.

The Culture Club held our first meeting at an apartment on a seasonably warm evening in Lincoln Park. The scents of our soon-to-be dinner wafted from the kitchen. Friends poured in and conversation became effervescent. We sampled a variety of homemade kombuchas, made preparations for dinner and began to talk about our projects on the horizon.

Mushroom CultivationIMG_1653

Members of this club had experimented with some mushroom cultivation methods on their own, following a We Farm America workshop at the Chicago Green Exchange, outlying some a simple method using substrate (what mushrooms grow on, in this case, pasteurized straw) and mycelium  (what mushrooms spawn from). Individually, our members weren’t having much luck- the mycelium hadn’t yet spawned on the substrate and turned into yummy fungal treats. Perhaps we needed more patience… or a little bit of collaboration?

The Culture Club wants to grow delicious edible mushrooms, and we want to grow a lot of them. So we will need a lot of mushroom spawn, and we hope in the future we can work with some experimental methods to grow and propagate it ourselves. Giddy with excitement, we ordered 10lbs of Oyster mushroom spawn from Fungi Perfecti. With this squishy dark brown treasure we can have a Lasagna Party. A lasagna party with the Culture Club isn’t a pasta dinner (though, with our crew of foodies, that would be a mouth-watering Culture Club event).  A traditional method for cultivation is to alternately layer mushroom spawn upon substrate upon mushroom spawn upon substrate repeated, much like a lasagna. So we made plans to make oyster mushrooms in an upcoming spawn-and-straw-lasagna making party. Yum.
What about other kinds of fancy mushrooms? The shiitake requires a hardwood substrate, typically logs, and loves the hard wood of Quercus (oak trees). To make these yummy treats, you drill holes in a dead log like Quercus, stuff them with mycelium, plug the holes with wax, keep it somewhere not-too-dry and wait patiently. If all goes well, the shiitake will burst forth gloriously from the sides of the log. This sounds pretty legendary but acquiring these precious logs could be a huge challenge. We discussed a possible educational retreat at Black Oaks Center for Sustainable Renewable Living? Suddenly a roadblock in our goals turned into a awesome excuse for an educational roadtrip and a great opportunity for collaboration with some fine folks in the Pembroke Townships.
Culture Club is excited about collaborating… isn’t that what culture is all about?
The spirit of collaboration brings us to our next project, something right here in Sweet Home Chicago!
Fermented Drink Cultivation

IMG_1642Benton House is hosting a permaculture party in January and we want to help! Young Aggies has expressed an interest in the Culture Club’s providing multiple gallons of fermented elixirs, as alcohol will not be served. Potential candidates include kombucha (a sweet refresher made from live yeast and bacteria), kefir (probiotic grain ferment that can be fermented with milk or water), and rejuvelac (an digestive-aiding elixer made from sprouted grains).

Since most of us are already producing kombucha at home, we thought we would try to make about 50 gallons, exhibiting various types, flavors and 3 fermentation levels. Primary fermentation involves an aerobic fermentation, the first stage for kombucha which is grown in an open vessel. This kombucha would be non-fizzy: your standard, no-nonsense kitchen-shelf kombucha. Secondary fermentation involves being a closed bottle for carbonation to make a healthy, earthy sodapop. Tertiary fermentation involves placing the fizzy drink into a closed vessel with fruit or other additives (ex. honey) for flavor and  flair.
Kombucha is perfectly fine and delicious at the first level, but taking it to the next level takes it, well, to the next level.
Club CultivationIMG_1649
Looking forward, we’d like to develop a handful of guiding principles that can facilitate consistent conversation with the public and potential club members. Presumably, this will be a combination of principles like permaculture and social justice, and a collection of goals like mushroom-growing and fermentation. But as we chowed down on our home-baked bread and lamb from a local farmer, washing the feast down with kombucha and neighborhood microbrew beer, we decided to wait for a few more voices and let the club’s culture form over time.
We’re excited to watch it grow organically.

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